Every other calamity is seemingly on the table for Purdue's senior tailback, who remains bad luck's favorite target, although teammate Robert Marve is a worthy rival.
Even with a three-times-surgically repaired knee and enough bumps and bruises for five players, Bolden is a college force of nature, a big play waiting to happen. He didn't get the game ball in Saturday's victory at Illinois by accident. Does that mean another big-play happening in Saturday's annual Oaken Bucket battle with Indiana that will determine the Boilers' postseason future?
It's not so simple.
Ten days ago full health and opportunity collided at Iowa and Bolden rushed for 102 yards on 14 carries. On Saturday the fifth-year senior needed just seven carries to total 93 yards and, if not for a tweaked hamstring, would have surpassed 100 again.
So what should we expect against the Hoosiers?
“With Ralph, you never know,” Marve says. “He might hobble for 100 yards.”
Darn right, Bolden says. Bad hamstring or not, sitting out ain't happening.
“I can come back. I've had a lot of injuries worse than this. It's nothing. It's not going to hold me up.”
Bolden is 5-9 and 190 pounds of resolve, and he's needed all of it. Some guys go through careers never understanding the difference between injury and pain. In football, perhaps more than any other sport, you play through pain, rehab injury so you can do it all over again.
And so Bolden has, again and again and again.
“I keep pushing. This is my last year. I'm going to give it all for my team, for the coaches, for Purdue.”
Bolden showcases the toughness any coach would want, and you'd better believe Purdue's Danny Hope wants it as this season that could have been winds down toward uncertainty.
“I can't say enough great things about him,” Hope says. “His teammates admire him. We gave the game ball to him. He was out there with just one leg left. He was giving all he had. He's had lots of miles and lots of rough sledding. He's a warrior. He exemplifies what being a Boilermaker is all about.”
Take Bolden's 63-yard Illini-back-breaking third-quarter run. He sprinted to the right, exploded past would-be tacklers to bolt into the secondary and would have had a 78-yard touchdown run except for the hamstring that forced him to go out of bounds.
“As soon as I got through the hole, as soon as I tried to put it in sixth gear, I felt it pop. I decided to hobble and get as much as I could. I was praying they wouldn't touch me, but they caught up to me, so I thought I'd just step out of bounds.”
Adds Marve: “That was awesome. I saw him hobbling on one leg. I was hoping he would have run out of bounds a little earlier than he did. He has a big heart. It's awesome playing with him.”
How frustrating was this latest setback?
“Whatever,” Bolden says. “It's just another injury. Another obstacle I've got to get through.”
Bolden missed the entire 2010 season with a knee injury, missed most of the 2009 Bucket game with a pulled hamstring, blew out his knee again in last year's Indiana win to miss the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl victory and then the first five games of this season.
You watch a guy keep getting knocked down and keep getting back up, says Marve, who's blown out his knee three times, and you want to knock down a wall for him.
“We had the Ralph Bolden cheer,” he says about Saturday night's impromptu post-game locker room celebration after giving Bolden the game ball. “That was just cool, just to see him smile. I was there against Indiana last year when he tore (his ACL), when he was crying and sad.
“I know what he's feeling. Everyone doesn't talk about you any more. Nobody expects anything from you any more.
“He comes back with pretty much 100 yards in back to back games. That shows how big his heart is. It shows how much he loves the program. I wouldn't have wanted (the game ball) to go to anyone else.”
Adds Bolden: “(Getting the game ball) was surreal. Everybody was giving me high-5s. It was very satisfying.”
Now it comes down to Saturday. Purdue is 5-6 and must beat Indiana (4-7) to become bowl eligible. If it does, projections have it going to the Jan. 1 Heart of Texas Bowl in Dallas. If it loses, it will join the Hoosiers on the postseason sidelines.
“We figured it would come down to this after we lost a couple of games,” Bolden says. “Everybody started picking it up. It's satisfying that we have to go through IU to get where we want to go.”
Last year was the same scenario, although this time Purdue has had to gut out three-point road wins against Iowa and Illinois.
Saturday, at least, will be played at Ross-Ade Stadium.
“It's the way we knew we had to go,” Bolden says. “We had to win out. We're doing it. We're trying to keep it up.”
Boils and locusts, be darned.
OnlineKickoff: Indiana at Purdue, noon, Saturday
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