WEST LAFAYETTE – Ricardo Allen deserves better. He's worked too hard, sacrificed too much.
And yet …
Purdue's beyond-belief-bad football season strains the myth that reward follows hard work. It can, of course, but guarantee isn't part of the mix.
Allen agonizes over each defeat because that's his nature. Losses mount and frustration grows. Not even the benefit of Saturday's Senior Day motivation, an appearance and speech by all-pro quarterback (and former Boiler) Drew Brees, and a bad Illinois team were enough to prevent a ninth straight loss.
Purdue is 1-10 and 0-7 in the Big Ten. It's only victory came against lower division Indiana State and even that was shaky. Besides, that was so long ago (Sept. 7), it might as well have happened in another century.
“All losses are tough for me,” Allen says. “I can't sleep at night. I take everything personally. It's what I do. I play football."
He plays it well. His interception against Illinois was the 11th of his career, and fourth of the season. He also forced a fumble and had four tackles, giving him 42 for the season and 242 for his career.
Only one Boilermaker has intercepted more passes -- Stuart Schweigert, who had 17 from 2000-2003. Rod Woodson, the former Snider standout and NFL Hall of Famer, also had 11 interceptions for Purdue.
Allen left Daytona Beach, Fla., to come to Purdue because former coach Danny Hope wanted him. He started immediately – getting four tackles in a loss at Notre Dame.
He was shaken when Hope was fired, but adapted to coach Darrell Hazell and his staff. He vowed before the season that, no matter what, not matter how many injuries he sustained, he wouldn't be on the sidelines.
And so he has.
“You love Ricardo,” Hazell said. “The game means so much to the guy. His preparation is unsurpassed by anyone on the team. It hurts him when we lose. You can see it on his face. You can feel the pain.”
Pain was evident after Saturday's final home game, but Allen lingered to let the moment last before striding off the Ross-Ade Stadium field for the final time.
“It's an amazing feeling to be able to play at Ross-Ade Stadium,” he says. “It's like Drew Brees said, it's a privilege to be a Boilermaker. My four years here have been great.”
Allen and the Boilers have one more game -- Saturday at Indiana in the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket. They have won it for two straight seasons, and four of the last five. They are not favored -- IU has the early 20-point Vegas edge -- and that is to be expected. Purdue has the Big Ten's worst offense, at 13.0 points, while the Hoosiers have the league's second-best offense, at 36.8 points. Both teams are ridiculously bad on defense -- Indiana allows 39.1 points and 529 yards to the Boilers' 36.4 points and 428 yards.
Purdue has lost nine straight games, and likely won't win again until next August, when it opens with Western Michigan. Allen will be long gone by then, probably to the NFL. He has pro talent, and is positioned to follow such recent Boiler draftees as defensive tackle Kawann Short (second round, Carolina), offensive linemen Dennis Kelly (fifth round, Philadelphia) and Nick Mondrek (sixth round, Houston) and defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (first round, Washington).
But that is for later. For now, there is Indiana (4-7, 2-5) to prepare for and young teammates to lead so that this kind of season never happens again.
“It's very tough,” Allen says. “I don't just do it for me or the rest of the seniors. I do it for the freshmen, the redshirt freshmen, the underclassmen. We're trying to develop the players. When they see that you're fighting to the last second, all the time…
“It's tough. I wish it came out differently, but I wouldn't change anything. I don't have any regrets.”
That, at least, is no myth.