Revival of a Rivalry

As the seconds ticked off the clock last year at Notre Dame Stadium, the scoreboard told a painful story for the Irish. An upstart Purdue team roared into South Bend last season and handed Notre Dame a 41-16 beating. To magnify the one-sided affair, it was the biggest margin of victory for the Boilermakers over the Irish since 1960. Purdue, undefeated at the time of the game, went on to lose five of their next eight games, adding salt to the wound.

Things have changed a little bit at Notre Dame since that loss. There is a new head coach in Charlie Weis and he has led the Irish to a 3-1 start and a top-15 ranking. But even Weis could not help himself from commenting on last year's debacle, calling it ugly to watch on film. The players know a lot has changed since then.

"Last year, we were a different team and in a different system," offensive tackle Ryan Harris said. "We were different players. Hopefully, all of us have gotten better as players as a team where we can just leave that as last year and look forward to what we can do this Saturday."

"It was a loss," wide receiver Jeff Samardzija said. "So it's going to be painful to watch. If it were a win, it would be a whole lot easier. There are things you have to take away from there in different situations. It definitely hurts to watch but that was the past and you're trying to get a win on Saturday. You're not trying to go back and change what happened last year. We're going to take away what we can from it and adapt it to this game."

The rivalry between the two has come back to the forefront because of one man: Joe Tiller. The Boilermaker head coach took over a team in 1997 that had lost 11 in a row to Notre Dame in the series. Not only was Purdue losing, they were losing badly. In those 11 contests, the average margin of victory for the Irish was 28 points per game.

It didn't take long for Tiller to put his mark on the series. In his very first game against Notre Dame, he and his newly installed spread offense beat the Irish 28-17 at Ross-Ade Stadium, breaking the 11-game losing streak. Tiller, 4-4 vs. Notre Dame, broke another losing streak in the series last year when Purdue won at Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since 1974. Weis has nothing but good things to say about the job Tiller has done with the Boilermakers.

"He's very creative on offense, always has been," Weis said. "He's another one of those guys who evolves. He sees who he has and then figures out what to do. He's been good since the day he's got there. Their program has been steadily on the rise and you have to respect that type of imagination. It's come to fruition as far as production goes."

The revival of the rivalry has brought the fans on both sides back into the mix, sometimes for the worse. Former Irish offensive lineman Sean Milligan recounted a story about being pelted with empty liquor bottles and other foreign objects while playing at Ross-Ade Stadium. That's where Notre Dame will be headed to this weekend. There is the added benefit of the game being held at night, which usually brings with it extra noise and exuberance from the 62,000-plus seat home crowd. Harris clearly remembers what stood out in his mind about Ross-Ade Stadium.

"Loud," Harris said. "My first time around the Purdue-Notre Dame game, I was a freshman and we were down there. It was loud. It probably is one of the top three loudest places I've played in. They got good fans and they're a good team. They know how to win and play hard. They're a tough team."

Notre Dame is in an extremely unique position because of their history and schedule. The Irish have a lot of so-called rivals year in and year out. USC, Navy, Purdue and both Michigan schools are a few that come to mind and each week presents a different storyline for one of the most cherished football programs in college. Weis said the team cannot just get caught up in the rivalry aspect of the game because there is a lot extra riding on each contest.

"The obvious thing to do when you're at Notre Dame is to just say the obvious rivalry is USC," Weis said. "That's the one where everyone says, ‘Well, it's Notre Dame and USC.' But let me tell you something: the way our schedule is set, there are so many teams in close proximity that you're competing on a lot of levels. You're competing for bragging rights in state. You're competing for recruits.

"For so many things, you can never take a game and not view it as a rival because first of all, you'd be slighting the other people. And second of all, that's the way they are looking at it. If they're bringing a lot more emotion to the game than you are, than you are just missing the boat." Top Stories