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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 6

Gold and Black is a multi-platform media company that covers Purdue athletics like no one else.

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Page 61 of 117

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 6 62 Lesson No. 4: Turn Belief Into Luck Expect a miracle. There was no particularly profound approach to Spack's speech to his defense as Michigan State kicker Chris Gardner readied for a field goal attempt that surely would finish off Purdue. Gardner's 39-yard kick with just 2:13 left with the Spartans up 21-10, as fans were leaving Ross- Ade Stadium in droves, seemed like a mere formality. But Spack approached it as a simple matter of fact. "We are going to block this field goal, return it for a touchdown and we are going to win this game," Spack told his field goal block unit as they awaited the kick. Spack turned out prophetic, in part, because he really didn't know any better. "Hell yes, I did say that," Spack said. "I figured it was our year, it was our time." Moments later, the thumping sound of Leo Perez blocking Gardner's kick could be heard around Ross-Ade, a facility that had become hollow and quiet with many fans already in the parking lot or in their cars. And, as Spack believed, the ball bounced to Colvin, an All-Big Ten defensive end. The junior from Indianapolis picked the ball up and ran 62 yards for a touchdown. "I was on the sideline, and I remember watching and telling Gabe Cox while we were losing, 'Hey, look at all these fans leaving. They're going to be running back in here,' " Watson said. "I had literally said that to Gabe, and sure enough we block it, run it back." The improbable continued, as Purdue recovered the ensuing onside kick, setting up Watson's go-ahead score. Despite Purdue's amazing comeback, Michigan State had a chance to win the game at the end, but Gardner missed another field goal. "Even when they had that last-second field goal at- tempt to win it, we are sitting there on the sideline hold- ing hands and praying," Watson said. "I get goose bumps sitting here thinking about it 20 years later. "To this day, I do similar things with my kids because you can see certain things like that happen. Those are situations where you can try to envision and give kids the chance to believe. Brock called the timeout and the first thing he said was, 'We are going to block this field goal, run it back for a touchdown, recover the onside kick, go down and score a touchdown, and win the game.' He believed and we believed. And it happened." There may be no greater miracle in the history of Pur- due football. Lesson No. 5: Have Fun (But Not Too Much) When speaking with Tiller's players, they admit the new coach brought a fresh approach to the program for the 1997 season. After all, Tiller might have had a career as a stand-up comedian had he worked at it as hard as he did being a football coach. Tiller infused a healthy dose of levity into the everyday of Boilermaker football — partly because who Tiller was as a person, and partly because he knew he had to keep his team loose as it continued on an improbable journey. "My first thought about Coach Tiller was, 'What did he really do?' " Dicken said. "He would come up to me in practice and tell me a joke, not a very good joke at that, and the words would come out of nowhere. I laughed to amuse him, but it set a tone. It was just the way the sea- son went, he was always saying, 'Hey don't worry about what happened, let's move on to the next play. Let's have fun with this thing.' " Everything was a next-play mentality, but it was Til- ler's offbeat, not-so-serious approach to the next play that worked for this team. "Why is the next play most important?" Tiller would ask rhetorically. "Because it is the next play." For Rose, the success and fun was, at times, too much. Rose, a sophomore linebacker who emerged from rel- ative obscurity to become a hero, compiling one of the greatest seasons statistically of any Boilermaker line- backer, said it was a struggle for him to keep it all in per- spective.

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