Dec. 31, 2000
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - Unfinished business brought Drew Brees back to Purdue for his senior year, and everything's fallen into place - so far.
One task remains.
"We still have to win the Rose Bowl, but this has been everything I came back for," Brees said. "It's something we'd like to win, it's something I'd like to be a part of."
Brees and the 14th-ranked Boilermakers will get that opportunity Monday against No. 4 Washington in the 87th Rose Bowl game.
Purdue will be trying to extend Big Ten domination - its champion has won the last four Rose Bowls and seven of the last eight against the Pac-10 representative.
Brees finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, behind quarterbacks Chris Weinke of Florida State and Josh Heupel of Oklahoma.
"I think he's been sensational since the first time he stepped on the field," Washington coach Rick Neuheisel said. "He hasn't taken a shortcut to get off the hook, he knows all the bells and whistles of the offense."
Purdue (8-3) will be playing in just its second Rose Bowl - Bob Griese guided the Boilermakers to a 14-13 victory over Southern California on Jan. 2, 1967.
Washington (10-1) returns after an eight-year absence to play in its 14th Rose Bowl. The Huskies are 6-6-1 in previous games.
"We're grateful for the opportunity to play in this game, it's great to be here," said fourth-year Purdue coach Joe Tiller, whose team left subzero temperatures in West Lafayette, Ind., for sunny Southern California.
Before Brees and Tiller arrived at Purdue in 1997, the Boilermakers had played in only four bowl games since their lone Rose Bowl appearance, and none since 1984.
They're 4-for-4 since Tiller became coach, but hardly remember last year's bowl appearance fondly, having blown a 25-0 lead before losing 28-25 in overtime to Georgia in the Outback Bowl.
"I think our team is a more mature team than we had a year ago," Tiller said. "Last year we had a good time, but I'm not sure we got our work done."
The Boilermakers closed all Rose Bowl practices but the first one. Washington practices have all been open except to Purdue media.
The Purdue success story of the last four years hasn't been all Brees, although he'll leave as the Big Ten leader in pass attempts (1,639), completions (1,003), passing yards (11,517), touchdown passes (88) and total offense (12,442 yards).
"You can't win a Big Ten championship without having a very fine defense, that goes without saying," Neuheisel said. "This is a squad that I think is a perfect marriage to their offense."
The Boilermakers averaged 471.2 yards per game and 32.5 points. The Huskies, who have an outstanding quarterback themselves in Marques Tuiasosopo, averaged 407.9 yards and 32.1 points.
"We're both pretty capable," Tuiasosopo said of himself and Brees. "Everyone's looking to the matchups, he's going to play his best, he's not interested in a one-on-one duel. I'm not, either. If we're going head-to-head in a skills competition, that's one thing. We're playing a game."
Tuiasosopo said he met Brees last summer at a football camp in nearby Orange County, and the two have stayed in touch.
Tuiasosopo's individual statistics pale in comparison to those of Brees. However, he's led his team to eight come-from-behind victories - many in the fourth quarter, when Washington has outscored the opposition 144-68.
Purdue allowed an average of 340.5 yards and 21.1 points, while Washington gave up 349.5 yards and 22.4 points per game.
"It would be nice for everyone if it was an offensive game from the perspective of entertainment value," Tiller said. "Folks like to see home runs and 3-point shots."
And, presumably, touchdowns.
One thing that's drawn Neuheisel's attention is the excellent protection Purdue affords Brees.
"When you throw as many times as they throw, it's astounding to think he's been taken to the ground only eight times behind the line of scrimmage," Neuheisel said.
Surprisingly, the Boilermakers are slight favorites.
"Well, we've been underdogs almost since I arrived (before the 1999 season)," Neuheisel said. "Our team understands there are still some people who don't believe in Pac-10 football. We've got to keep proving ourselves. The game will be decided on the field."
Tiller, amazed that his team is favored, said: "I didn't know we were. We are? That doesn't make sense to me. I have no idea where these numbers come from. I maintain my position - ignorance is bliss."
By JOHN NADEL
AP Sports Writer