Queen of the Homecoming
30 October 2001
Last weekend saw us enjoying another particularly fine American college tradition Homecoming weekend. This is an annual event when alumni return to their old school and are warmly welcomed by faculty and students. The highlight is the football game on Saturday, but the whole weekend is an action-packed extravaganza. Typically such weekends are worth about $2m to the Lafayette economy as hotels, motels, retailers, and restaurants share in the action.
the weekend also coincided with the rescheduled Discover Purdue
weekend which had been been set for mid-September, but was overtaken by larger
circumstances at that time.
Celebrations commenced with the Homecoming Parade which was held on Friday night. This long-held tradition had been abandoned here for many years, but was re-introduced in honour of the 80th birthday of the Big Bass Drum. Peter and I donned as much warm gear as would enable us to still fit into the car and headed out to get a good vantage point.
We arrived in plenty of time and were able to wander among the few floats and cars (to carry the Homecoming King and Queen entrants) and chat with marching band members and the cheer leaders/baton twirlers. The latter were sensibly dressed in track suits but assured me that tomorrow at the game they would have to wear their skimpy outfits. I decided then and there not to try out for the cheer squad!
also able to talk to the guy who had the honour of playing the big drum and
he was kind enough to allow me to have a photo taken banging the drum. That
was pretty exciting. We also got a photo of (reluctant) Peter with the team
mascot Purdue Pete. Purdue Pete meets Purdue Pete has
a good ring as a photo caption!
The parade was fun. The marching band and their instruments were bedecked with fairy lights, the twirlers batons were tipped with glow sticks, and the effect was magical. Paraders distributed candy, pom-poms, and flags, and Peter and I stuffed our pockets with goodies, cheered and thumped our hands together (its hard to clap with gloves on), then headed for the warmth of home.
Next morning we had an early start as Peter had volunteered to work at the School of Education Alumni Hospitality tent, which was situated near the entrance to the football stadium. I decided to go in with him and help him be sociable. The game was due to start at about 11 am and we went in at 9. The weather was cold, but the bitter winds of the preceding days had mercifully abated. Hospitality consisted of bagels and cream cheese, apples, hot popcorn, hot coffee and hot chocolate, and lots of Purdue regalia, stickers, etc.
job (after having our fill of bagels, etc) was to welcome visitors, and hand
out the goodies.I had a great time distributing popcorn and yellow Purdue pom-poms.
Crowds streamed by, mostly in Purdue colours of gold and black. Occasionally
a handful of NorthWestern supporters would pass by in their bright purples.
We didnt have tickets for the Homecoming game but have been given tickets
for next week. Once most of the crowd had passed our tent, and the popcorn supplies
were depleted, we took our leave and wandered around to the main entrance to
watch the band enter the stadium.
As we walked around, we noticed a few people waving tickets for sale. Being more impulsive than a lover of football, I persuaded Peter to buy two tickets from a guy who assured us he was honest. I wished he hadnt said that because I immediately felt sure he wasnt and that we had done our dough, but we nevertheless scurried around to our allocated gate and happily found the vacant seats waiting for us.
atmosphere was electric. The marching bands had already completed their pre-game
performance and had taken up their positions at either end of the field. The
All-American Purdue Marching band has about 300 members, and they were joined
on this occasion by the Alumni band which also consisted of over a hundred players.
They dont just play, they perform waving their instruments wildly
and playing with extraordinary skill and enthusiasm.
surged to their feet to welcome the teams onto the field. And on they came
and on and on!!! Hordes of guys in slinky gold lycra pedal pushers, black shirts,
and gold helmets, their bodies strangely distorted by masses of padding and
armour on their legs and upper body. Then came an equally large battalion for
the opposing team. Later during the less scintillating parts of the game I counted
about 70 on each side! I gasped aloud: Are they all really going to play?
The guy beside me looked down disbelievingly. I apologised to him and confessed
that this was my first game. He patiently explained that most of them would
actually play. At any one time, there were only 11 on the grounds, but there
was one group who played offence, another who played defence, others who had
specialist roles, and others who were reserves and replacements. I did a quick
calculation and wondered how, with all the band members, cheer squads, coaches
and their assistants, game officials, and media personnel, there was any room
left in the stadium for spectators!
I have never enjoyed football (except maybe soccer), and this game did nothing
to disabuse me of my detestation. This particular version (Grid Iron) is a very
complex game, but I soon learned a few basics. For example, the commentators
frequent announcement that Hances pass is incomplete was not
a cause for celebration. Some of those guys can really throw the ball though
and one fellow was on the receiving end of a bullet from Hance. He stood there
stunned, removed the ball from the cavity in his chest and held it aloft. On
that occasion, Hances pass was complete. I waved my yellow pom-pom. Another
move that impressed me was by a huge guy who puffed himself out to almost double
his original size, planted himself with shoulders forward, and held this position
while an opponent thrust at him. The hapless attacker bounced back and landed
in an undignified shattered heap. The giant stood tall, did a high-five with
his mates and lumbered off the field. I dont think he even got to return
for the rest of the game. He was obviously one of those specialists.
During all this on-field action, there was plenty to distract me. The cheer
squads led cries of Go Boilers! and their acrobatic feats were a
delight. The band would also burst into life every time the action was going
Purdues way, or if there seemed to be a bit of a lull, or if the band
felt like playing! At last half-time arrived, and I could enjoy the real entertainment
of the bands and baton twirlers (dressed in skimpy outfits as promised) as the
main event rather than as a side show. The Big Bass Drum was rolled out maniacally
by its enthusiastic handlers. I loved their reverent irreverence as they played
see-saw with the carriage, alternately lifting the front and back bearers several
feet off the ground. The coup de grace was when one of the original bass players,
now 96 years old, walked jauntily (well as jauntily as a 96 year old could manage)
onto the field to have another historic bash at the big drum. The band was great.
I could have watched and laughed at their passionate enjoyment for hours
forget the football, this was much more fun!
Other half-time excitement included the crowning of the Homecoming King and
Queen. It wasnt Peter and me, what a pity! There was also a presentation
to the couple who donated $30m towards the cost of the new nanotechnology centre.
The alumni Band then played and a number of former twirlers returned to relive
their glory days.
Then it was back to the football. By this time, I just wanted them to finish
and go home. I felt particularly sorry for those guys shivering in their lycra
suits who never got to run on even for a moment. The good news is that Purdue
won, and I have to admit that the 67,119 other people in the crowd appeared
to be much more enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the game that I was. Peter
was able to pick up on a few of the rules and has shared some of his insights
with me. After next week, we should be absolute experts!
We wandered back through the university to find our car, and noticed lots of
tail-gate parties, and parents being invited into the residence halls. Homecoming
continued. We went home.
Due to popular demand (mostly from Robert who keeps getting the correct answers), I will finish with another trivia question. This one might be a bit harder, Robert. What four October weather records have been broken here in Indiana this year?
Send your entries by return email. Id love to hear from you.
Hope you are all well.
|Last updated: March 30, 2002|