Bowl-bound Boilers celebrating

by Reggie Hayes
Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, November 1997

       BLOOMINGTON -- "Who's the Man?" they chant.
       "Joe Tiller's the man!"
       "Who's the man?"
       "Billy Dicken's the man!"
       The Purdue fans gather around the makeshift interview tent, where Tiller, the coach, and Dicken, the quarterback, were rehashing their 56-7 win over Indiana on Saturday in the Old Oaken Bucket game.
       Purdue football fans. Silent, suffering sols the past 13 seasons, they're out in full force now, reveling in the team's unlikely 8-3 record and waiting to see whether they need plane tickets to Tampa, Fla., or San Antonio. They chant Tiller's name. They chant Dicken's name. They hold a poster, mimicking a beer logo. It reads: "Tiller. Genuine Joe." They ask Tiller to pose in front of the poster. He obliges. They pat his back, shake his hand.
       The fans love Joe Tiller. They love Billy Dicken.
       "We come into the season every year thinking we're going to be a good team," Dicken said. "The only people who believed in us were the guys in the locker room. So everybody's jumping on the bandwagon now. But I don't care, that's fine with me."
       Dicken has been around five years. In the previous four, the Boilermakers won 12 games, lost 29 and tied three. Nobody was chanting his name hten, except perhaps accountants for the hospitals where he had his shoulder, sternum and other dents repaired.
       he's a little uneasy that his worth is teid to the team's record, its No. 18 ranking in the polls and its upcoming first trip to a bowl game since 1984.
       "We've had the talent here at Purdue for many years now, but we haven't put it together, we haven't got over the hump, "Dicken said. "Once we got over the hump and everybody started believing we would win, good things happened."
       With the good things came the fans. Attendance was at a 10-year high at home games. Student ticket sales were up significantly.
       Senior running back Ed Watson noticed the subtle change on campus, how football players were suddenly on par with their basketball counterparts. All the students seemed to know Chad Austin. Everyone wanted to talk to him, connect with him, tell their friends he was in a class with them.
       Watson was always treated more matter-of-factly, if he was acknowledged at all.
       "They definitely love us and respect us more now," Watson said. "We're finally getting to feel that love and respect the basketball team feels. It feels good to have that. We need those fans in our corner."
       It's significantly better than having those same fans back you into a corner.
       "In the past, we were getting hammered a little bit," Watson said. "Everybody wanted to know what happened and what the excuses were. They were making excuses for us. This year, they don't have to make excuses for us."
       Purdue's charmed season is on hold until the official bids Dec. 7. But it comes down to the Outback Bowl in Tampa and the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Unless Penn State is upset by Michigan State, the Alamo is more likely.
       Purdue will finish no worse than tied for third in the Big Ten, but the Boilermakers trail in potential television ratings and traveling fans.
       "We're going to start a new thing," Watson said. "People will be talking about how many consecutive winning seasons and how many consecutive bowl appearances we've had."
       Some fan, somewhere, will say he knew it all along.