As I prepared to interview Purdue’s senior quarterback Curtis Painter after a recent game against Minnesota, I had my story angle all plotted out.
Just like ESPN’s The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame... show, I examined the Boilermakers’ disappointing offense, Painter’s subpar 2008 stats (10 INTs and only six TDs), and his team’s losing record...and came to the conclusion that Painter wasn’t completely at fault for Purdue’s struggles.
There were other factors being overlooked, other players performing below expectations, and so on. I had the story basically written—just had to plug in the right quotes. Piece of cake, right?
A funny thing happened in the postgame press conference, however.
Painter wouldn’t take the bait.
In fact, every time I brought up a possible reason for Purdue’s lackluster offense that didn’t have to do with himself, he downplayed it. (And no, I didn’t ask the questions quite like this...)
Curtis, your last interception hit the wide receiver in the hands, and he basically let the defender rip the ball away instead of grabbing it. That has to be just pure joy for a quarterback. I mean, I know you’re not quite throwing to Dustin Keller anymore (Jets’ 2008 first round pick), but still, your receivers aren’t doing you any favors this season, are they?
“To look at it from my perspective, I should have thrown it outside a little bit more. I gave the defender the chance to do that—kinda frustrating for myself. The guy made a great play, but like I said, I would have liked to put it outside, so it’s just a tough situation.”
Um, okay. Cross off “underperforming, inexperienced wide receivers” from my official excuses for Painter. That’s all right, I’ve got plenty more.
Let’s move to the offensive line. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many injuries at one position group. There’s been more turnover in the Purdue O-line than in the Oakland Raiders’ coaching office. Guys out of position...different starters every game...your team’s so low on the depth chart that the linemen should wear nametags...the injuries up front have to affect your play behind center, right?
“I don’t think it’s necessarily too much of a difficulty to me. [In the Minnesota game], we ran the ball well in the first half. That’s kinda credited to them, and I think for the most part, we had pretty good protection. Maybe we missed a few, we’ll have to go back and look at it; but that might even have been on me or someone else.”
Strike two. You’re not helping me, sir. Moving right along...
You guys have seen some of the country’s best defenses in the first part of your 2008 schedule. Last year’s season started in the cupcake aisle with Toledo and Eastern Illinois; this year you played three Top 20 teams in five weeks, and Penn State and Ohio State especially are known for their defensive prowess.
Even though your offensive numbers haven’t been great so far, most of that can be attributed to the quality of the teams you’ve played, right?
(That whimpering sound you hear is me muttering “Please say yes, please say yes...”)
“I think it’s a little of both. Obviously in some of those games, we played against some great teams, and you don’t expect to score 40 points a game. But certainly, there’s things we need to take care of and take advantage of, and when the opportunity’s there, capitalize. I think that getting back on track and trying to do that will be the biggest thing.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of my theory.
Curtis, I don’t think you get it. I’m providing the justifications...the rationalizations...the excuses...all you have to do is smile, nod, and agree while I get you off the hook for Purdue’s 2-6 start.
TRANSLATION: I WROTE THE STORY ALREADY! HELP ME OUT!
Don’t say I didn’t try.
You see, you’re not supposed to provide painfully honest quotes like, “I didn’t want to hurt us any more” when you explain why you left the game after trying to play through a shoulder injury.
You’re supposed to throw your wide receivers under the bus, cry and complain about the O-line injuries, or question the conservative play calling of a coach who’s halfway to his Wyoming ranch at this point...maybe all of the above.
When you suffer an injury that seems to mercifully cut short a disappointing season, you should simply shrug and head to the bench where your stats can’t get any worse. None of this “wish it was the other shoulder, then I could at least play” stuff, Mr. Tough Guy.
When all the fans, media, and bloggers were calling for your benching, I stuck up for you.
And you reward me by standing up and taking all the responsibility, all the blame...and ruin my story in the process?
Thanks for nothing.
Now what do I do? Do I give in and decide it really is your fault? Do I write a story that twists your quotes to make you agree with me? The bottom line is that your team’s offense still stinks...10 points a game in the last month? Somebody has to take the fall.
Whew. I need a break from writing...time to flip on the television and see how bad Purdue got beat this weekend...
WEST LAFAYETTE, INDIANA—With Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter unavailable due to a shoulder injury, redshirt freshman Justin Siller got his first career start under center and led the Boilermakers to a thrilling 48-42 win over Michigan.
Hmm...the offense that had a grand total of 41 points in the last four games just scored 48 with a third-stringer calling the shots. A team that had lost five straight games with Painter starting just got a rare win while he stood on the sidelines, sporting a baseball cap and lugging a clipboard.
Curtis, I’m sorry I doubted you.
I was wrong.
You were right.
You finally convinced me.
It really was all your fault.