WEST LAFAYETTE -- Robert Marve has survived the dark side. He's made mistakes, battled injuries, fought immaturity, become irrelevant, discovered poise, learned lessons.
Oh, yes. He's won a huge Purdue football game.
Now he is a Boiler quarterback hero, at least for a week, the king of second chances poised for more, especially if he's granted a sixth season of college opportunity.
“It's been a long road to get here,” he says. “A lot of dark nights.”
On a gray Saturday afternoon Marve found the light in the potentially season-saving 26-23 overtime victory over Ohio State. Teammates Robert Gaston (huge blocked extra point to help get into overtime) and Kawaan Short (three sacks to earn Walter Camp defensive player of the week) shared the spotlight, but make no mistake, this was Marve's moment.
“I'm really happy for Robert,” Purdue coach Danny Hope says. “Very few players have put in more and gotten less.”
Marve got just enough against Ohio State. He was 10-for-13 for 94 yards and scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
“This is what we brought him here for, to win close games like this,” tailback Ralph Bolden says. “That's what he is supposed to do, and that's what he did.”
Why not? In high school Marve broke Tim Tebow's Florida state passing records, and expectations soared. He was strong and strong-armed, athletic and genetically blessed. His father, Eugene, played linebacker in the NFL for 12 years.
Then he went to the University of Miami and life got complex.
The instant image paints Marve as a serial screw up. In two years at Miami he got in a wreck and got suspended twice, once after being arrested, then for academics. His name came up last summer as part of the turmoil surrounding impermissible benefits from now jailed Miami booster (and nearly $1 billion Ponzi scheme perpetrator) Nevin Shapiro.
And yet there is depth, maturity and resolve steeled through adversity.
Hope insists Marve is a great teammate and has never caused any problems since transferring to Purdue in 2009, although there was a brief misunderstanding about a Marve tweet earlier this season.
Marve constantly praises fellow quarterback Caleb TerBush, who has gotten the starts and minutes Marve might have expected. He's never griped or complained or become locker room poison. A pair of torn ACLs left him unable to play or practice, but not unable to find perspective.
It's about family, he says. It's about parents Eugene and Julie flying to Indianapolis to help him after his surgeries; it's about his high school coach, Robert Weiner, talking him through tough times; it's about his teammates supporting him after on-field mistakes or limited playing time.
“My knee issues have been more than anyone knows about,” he says. “I understand the situation. TerBush should start. I'm a big fan of TerBush. We're very close. From the outside it might look surprising, but we're both all about winning.”
Only recently has Marve gotten enough practice reps critical to game success. Saturday was the first time he displayed the running burst missing for two years, showing it during three crucial overtime runs.
“It's the best my knee has felt,” he says. “I was running through my runs and through other players. It felt like the old me again.”
The new Marve can still deliver are-you-kidding-me mistakes. His end-of-regulation interception against Ohio State kept Purdue from attempting a game-winning field goal. The Boilers were already within Carson Wiggs' long-distance range. Marve went back to pass and saw home run instead of single. He went deep and covered rather than short and open.
“It was man-to-man coverage and I knew I was throwing with the wind,” he says. “I didn't want to go into overtime. I wanted to do it now. The wind caught the ball and it stayed up longer than I thought.”
Such mistakes provide clarity if you have the maturity to see it, which first means getting the chance. Hope and offensive coordinator Gary Nord stayed with Marve in overtime because TerBush was banged up.
“To have the opportunity to come back,” Marve says, “I didn't want the second chance to slip.”
Marve delivered in overtime. On third-and-12, he scrambled right and saw receiver Gary Bush break off his route and break open. His 14-yard completion gave Purdue the ball inside the 1-yard line and set up Marve's game-winning sneak.
“Don't throw something you don't see,” he says. “See what you throw, throw what you see. I stuck with my principles.”
Those principles start with family first, he says. You keep the faith and keep grinding. Turning points are meaningless and validation doesn't come from one big win.
“You don't need validation for hard work,” he says.
What you do need is an opportunity, and Marve insists he will take advantage of his.
“My college story has been like a roller coaster,” he says. “Let's see where it takes me.”