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Thursday, December 21, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Purdue's tight end lets loose

Seattle Times staff reporter

You call Tim Stratton, the All-Big Ten tight end from Purdue, expecting to snag a comment or two on his matchup in the Rose Bowl: the Mackey Award winner--best tight end in the country--against Washington's Jerramy Stevens.

Tim Stratton doesn't know much about that. He wants to talk about other things.

Within five minutes, he is discoursing on Drew Brees' birthmark, the signature blemish high on the right cheek of the Boilermakers' quarterback.

"We named his birthmark," Stratton says. "It's `Pernick.' We named it after our old teammate, Matt Pernick. He had a really crooked nose, crazy hair, just a crazy-looking kid.

"We did it at the (1997) Alamo Bowl. We didn't have any IDs, we couldn't get into the bars. Brees had never touched alcohol before that. He was giggling and stuff. We were thinking about names: What the hell could we name it?"

It hit them, Stratton takes pains to explain, when Pernick committed an atrocity against his luggage, believing in his altered state that he was in the bathroom.

"So we said it's got to be `Pernick,' " Stratton says.

Brees has a return of serve for Stratton:

"Tell him he's an idiot," Brees says.

But Stratton is only warming up. Now he's onto the story of the helmet. The helmet saga was one of the melodramas of Purdue's first Rose Bowl season in 34 years.

When the Boilermakers kicked a last-second field goal to beat Michigan 32-31 on Oct. 7, the fans stormed the field. Fans moshed in the end zone,

and--ever the hedonist--Stratton was right there with them. Students began scaling the goal posts.

"I said, `Screw it, I might as well hang on the goal post,' " Stratton says. "I really didn't care."

He told a student acquaintance to hold onto his helmet. The student agreed. But then the student got distracted--helping hoist Stratton toward the crossbar. In an instant, another student fleeced the helmet.

"(Coach Joe) Tiller wasn't too happy," Stratton says. "He made a big deal out of it to the press. He said if Stratton doesn't get his helmet back, or pay for it, he's getting suspended for the Northwestern game. I had alumni calling, wanting to buy the helmet for me. I really wasn't happy ... he threatened to suspend me. "Brees had his helmet taken two years before that and nothing happened with Drew, Mr. Wonder Boy."

The plot thickened. Most of the week passed, Purdue fans in suspense over whether Stratton would play in a big game at Northwestern.

In the wee hours late in the week, the phone rang at Stratton's house off campus.

"Tell him Tim Stratton will play," the caller told Stratton's roommate. "The helmet is at the north-end goal post."

The caller, a student, had broken into Ross-Ade Stadium and returned the helmet. He also called Tiller's secretary, and a member of the maintenance crew retrieved it.

"(Tiller has) let me get away with a little more than I should have," Stratton concedes. "He's flexible. That's why he's a cool coach.

"We get along. He'll rip on me for something, and I'll rip back at him. I had earrings as a freshman. He told me to take them out. I said, `Grow some hair.' "

Stratton, 6 feet 4 and 250 pounds and a 56-reception target this year, hasn't met a subject he won't address. To wit:

** On the Boilermakers' overtime loss last year after Georgia's 25-0 second-quarter deficit, the biggest comeback in bowl history: "It's hard not to have a letdown, and I think our coaches got a little conservative. I'm sure I'll get in trouble, but I really don't care."

** On his decision not to submit his name to an NFL panel for a draft evaluation, even as he leans toward coming out: "I'm sure Coach Tiller would call and tell them (NFL personnel), `Oh, keep him here.' I'm sure winning that award (the Mackey) would be a good recruiting tool for him."

** On his mother, who blanches at every Stratton quote: " `Timmy, you have your family. Come on.' I'm really blunt. My public image, I can't really care about."

Here's the bad news: Stratton didn't register an inflammatory prediction on the Rose Bowl. The good news: he didn't say reporters couldn't ask him about it afterward.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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