The Year the Bucket Returned to Bloomington
There he stood, the embattled Indiana football coach on that cold December 1st night in 1962. It was nearly eight thirty and Phil Dickens stood center court in the new field house. There he stood beaming with pride holding high above his head the object of adoration of every Indiana and Purdue football fan since 1925.
To understand the wonder, awe, and joy of the Hoosier fans in attendance that night, one must remember it had been since 1947 that the bucket would reside in Bloomington, Indiana. The bucket would take a home in Bloomington in 1947 thanks to Hall of Fame coach Bo Mcmillin. Mcmillin would preside over his last game as the Hoosiers head coach, a game that resulted in a 16-14 Indiana victory over Purdue in part thanks to a 20-yard field goal by Rex Grossman. The victory would be Mcmillin's 9th in 14 tries to go along with one tie. After 14 years as Indiana university's most successful football coach, Mcmillin was leaving to become the head coach of the Mel's Detroit Lions. For Bo, his growing family’s needs came before his desire to stay at Indiana. He just could not afford to pass up the $20,000 pay increase that coaching in the NFL would provide.
Since 1947, the closest Indiana had come to capturing the bucket had been in 1958 when a Phil Dickens-lead team visited West Lafayette and battled a favored Purdue team to a 15-15 tie. In that game, Purdue would strike first on a blocked punt return for 27 yards and a score to put Purdue up 7-0. Indiana would counter with a 73-yard 10-play drive that culminated with a touchdown and a two-point conversion to take an 8 -7 lead. Indiana would again reach pay dirt when a fourth down pass was completed to Indiana great Earl Fasion and the Hoosiers led 15-7. Purdue would cap the scoring in the first half with their own touchdown and a two-point conversion bringing the halftime score to 15-15. The defenses of both teams took over in the second half resulting in a tie game at 15 all. The result was an I and a P were both added to the bucket. That year, the bucket itself stayed in West Lafayette.
It was on a sunny November day in 1962 that Indiana and Purdue fans prepared for the annual clash of these two teams from Indiana. It was North vs South. Purdue entered the game with a record of 4-3-1 facing an Indiana team that stood at 2-6 on the season. A then-record crowd of 50,242 showed up at Ross-Ade Stadium prepared to watch a Purdue victory, for the Boilermakers were favored by two touchdowns.
In the first half, both teams battled back and forth until Purdue drew first blood on a 10-yard Walker touchdown followed by an Oil kick resulting in a 7 -0 lead with 7:53 left in the first quarter. Indiana would counter by taking over on their own 20 and March all the way to the Purdue 11 before the drive was stopped. The Hoosiers had to settle for a Luke George field goal to make the score 7-3.
In the second quarter, Mike Lopa returned a Purdue punt to the Boilermaker’s 31. However, Indiana was once again forced to settle for another George field goal and the scoreboard read Purdue with a 7-6 lead. With less than 2 minutes remaining in the first half, Purdue was poised again to score on the Indiana 14-yard line. Purdue QB DiGravio dropped back to pass to hideout John Greiner. To the dismay of Purdue fans and delight of the Hoosier faithful, the ball bounced off Greiner’s hands into the waiting arms of Indiana's Marv Woodson at the Indiana 7-yard line. Collective hearts stopped at that moment as Woodson began to take off down the sideline. Boilermaker fans held their breath in hopes Woodson would be caught by the only Purdue player in the backfield, the QB DiGravio, while Indiana fans held their breath that Woodson would elude the tackle. Woodson would indeed scamper down the east sidelines for a 93-yard touchdown interception. The first half ended with Indiana leading 12-7.
The second half became a defensive struggle. The closest Indiana could get to scoring was in the 3rd quarter with the ball on the Purdue 20, the Hoosiers would see a George field goal attempt go wide. Purdue's last field attempt chance ended on a Ray Schulz catch on the Indiana 7-yard line as time expired. Boilermaker fans exited in silence. They had lost the bucket for the first time since 1947. Indiana fans left with a joy long forgotten.
The joy that December night was overwhelming as for many in the crowd. It was their first glimpse of the Old Oaken Bucket getting ready to return to Bloomington. What a wonderful sight it was. I know for I was one of those in the stands that night to witness it happen. The bucket was coming home.