Bob Griese, the Hall of Fame quarterback, laughed aloud at the question.
“Did I watch?” he said. “Of course I watched! Purdue was playing on national television in prime time. Of course I watched!”
He paused, then added, sounding like the proud alumnus that he is, “And boy was it a great night.”
It was a night that ended with thousands of Purdue fans storming the field at Ross-Ade Stadium after the Boilermakers had stunned then-No. 2 Ohio State, 49-20, on Saturday — pulling away from the Buckeyes with a 28-point fourth quarter.
“It was one of those nights you didn’t want to see end,” Purdue Coach Jeff Brohm said Wednesday morning, admitting that he and his team still hadn’t come down completely from the victory. “I told the players after the game that this was special and we weren’t going to act as if it was just another win.
“We did some very light conditioning on Sunday, and then I told them to take off until Tuesday, to just savor what they’d accomplished. Of course, we came back to practice Tuesday, and, just as you’d expect, we didn’t practice well at all.”
He laughed. “It was the kind of game you wish was the last one of the season. But it’s not.”
In fact, Purdue (4-3) has five games left, beginning Saturday at Michigan State. But there’s no doubt that the Boilermakers have come a long way since Brohm was hired in December 2016 to take over a reeling program.
Purdue had just finished 3-9, not even its worst record during four seasons in which it went 9-39, including 3-30 in the Big Ten. Brohm had just completed his third season at Western Kentucky, going 10-3 and winning a second straight Conference USA title. His record was 30-10, and, at 45, he was a hot, upcoming coach.
“There were these opportunities, so I started asking people I trusted what they thought,” he said. “I can honestly say 90 percent or more said, ‘Definitely do not take the Purdue job.’ ”
It wasn’t as if Purdue had never had success in football. It had just been a while.
Griese, who graduated from Purdue in January 1967, had taken the Boilermakers to their first Rose Bowl appearance and victory — 14-13 over Southern Cal — as a senior. He went on to help the Miami Dolphins win back-to-back Super Bowls.
“Trivia question for you,” he said. “Name the two schools that have produced three Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.”
One is a football superpower: Alabama, with Bart Starr, Joe Namath and Ken Stabler.
“Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Drew Brees,” Griese said. “That would be Purdue University. If you want to be an astronaut or an NFL quarterback, Purdue is the place for you.”
Purdue has produced 24 astronauts — including Neil Armstrong — and is known as “the cradle of astronauts.”
Twenty-four astronauts — and two Rose Bowl appearances. The second came in January 2001 — a 34-24 loss to Washington — with Brees at quarterback and was part of an 11-season run under Joe Tiller in which the Boilermakers went to 10 bowl games.
That has historically made it, in sports terms, the “other” Indiana school. It is 110 miles south of Notre Dame and its iconic football program and 115 miles northwest of Indiana and its famous basketball program.
Tiller retired after going 4-8 in 2008, and Purdue fell on hard times. During the next eight falls, there was one winning season (7-6 in 2011) and one 1-11 season (2013). The 2016 season ended with Purdue’s fourth straight loss to archrival Indiana, which, as a football school, is very good in basketball.
All of that would explain why Brohm’s friends urged him not to consider Purdue. It also explains why he took the job.
“You know there are places you can go to — Ohio State, USC, Florida and some others — where you’re almost certainly going to win,” he said. “The more I looked at Purdue, the more intrigued I became. I thought, ‘This is a place that needs someone to come in and be a difference-maker. This is a real challenge for a coach. Let’s go and find out if I can really coach or not.’ ”
So far, the answer is an emphatic yes. Purdue went 7-6 a year ago in Brohm’s first season, winning four Big Ten games, including an upset at Iowa two weeks after the Hawkeyes had routed Ohio State.
This year, however, did not get off to a glorious start: The opener was a close loss to Northwestern. It was followed by a stunning loss to Eastern Michigan and a 40-37 donnybrook defeat against Missouri.
“Bad coaching,” Brohm said. “Against Northwestern, I called a bad game. We had three first-half interceptions. Our quarterback [redshirt senior David Blough] didn’t play very well, but I didn’t help him at all.
“Against Eastern Michigan, I coached not to lose, so of course we lost. Then our offense was good against Missouri, but our defense was bad.”
Brohm decided to start over: to be aggressive on both offense and defense. “I said: ‘Screw it. Let’s throw the ball all over the place on offense, blitz and attack every chance we got on defense,’ ” he said. “I wanted to be sure we went up swinging every chance we got. If we went down on strikes, they’d all be swinging strikes.”
The turnaround began with a win over then-No. 23 Boston College, followed by victories over Nebraska and Illinois. Then came Ohio State.
With Purdue leading 7-3 late in the second quarter, Brohm called for a fake field goal, and it worked — holder Joe Schopper picked up four yards on fourth and three from the Ohio State 13. On the next play, Blough found freshman wide receiver Rondale Moore for a nine-yard touchdown pass.
“The call fit with what we’ve been doing,” Brohm said. “Stay aggressive. I wanted a two-score lead at halftime, so I figured, ‘Let’s go after it.’ Fortunately, it worked.”
Moore is the kind of star who often ends up at more glamorous schools than Purdue. He initially committed verbally to Texas, but after Brohm took over, he changed his mind. The fact that he went to the same high school as Brohm probably didn’t hurt. Only 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, he is averaging eight catches and 104 yards — and has eight total touchdowns — as a true freshman.
“I’m just so proud of what’s going on,” Griese said. “I think all of us just want to see a winning program at Purdue. Clearly, Jeff knows what he’s doing.
“When we had the lead [14-3] at halftime, I was thinking: ‘Okay, I know they’re going to come back on us. I hope we can find a way to win in the fourth quarter.’ ”
He paused. “But then it got better and better and better. It was amazing. All I felt was incredible pride.”
That pride was evident in his voice Tuesday afternoon. Griese played for the Dolphins for 14 seasons, coached under Don Shula for one season and then began a lengthy and successful career doing NFL games for NBC and then as the analyst alongside Keith Jackson for ABC’s No. 1 college football broadcast team.
“We did Purdue games twice in all those years,” Griese remembered. “And that was when Drew [Brees] was there.”
Soon after the game Saturday, Brees tweeted: “Congrats Boiler football. You make us proud. Tyler Trent, you willed it to happen. It did. Proud to be a Boilermaker.”
Trent is a 20-year-old Purdue student fighting a rare form of bone cancer who was forced to drop out of school recently after the cancer spread to his spine and forced him into a wheelchair. He was in the locker room after the victory, and Brohm, after introducing him as a new team captain, asked him to speak to the team.
“Thanks for leaving it all out on the field tonight,” Trent said, “and for showing people what it means to be a Boilermaker.”
Right now, being a Boilermaker means feeling very proud. It is the kind of pride that comes from understanding that going through the bad times is what makes the good times so sweet.
Which explains why Brohm didn’t want the night to end. “I think I went to bed at 6 a.m.,” he said. “It was better than winning the lottery. It’s a night I’ll never forget.”
Clearly, he’s not alone.
For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.