The untold story of how Neil Armstrong chose Purdue

Today, we don't remember what happened on the field that day as much as who was in the stands.

Posted: Jul 3, 2019 6:35 PM
Updated: Jul 3, 2019 6:49 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — It was just nine months ago that Boilermaker fans watched the Purdue football team upset No. 2 Ohio State.The parallels, historians say, are similar to what the Boilermakers did to the Buckeyes back in 1945. 

Today however, we don't remember the 35-13 win for Purdue that day as much as we remember who was in the stands. Purdue Historian John Norberg said if it wasn't for that game, you may not know the name Neil Armstrong.

"He had planned to go to MIT," Norberg said of the young Armstrong. "But in 1945, he went to the Ohio State stadium to watch a football game between Purdue and Ohio State."

Ohio State was one of the best teams in the country in 1945, ranked No. 4. They hadn't been scored on or beaten since the year prior.

"So Ohio State got out there and Purdue came, led by a self-described skinny freshman quarterback named Bob DeMoss," Norberg said. "He went out there and, just like last fall, beat Ohio State soundly. And Neil Armstrong was in the stadium at that time watching the game."

Norberg's hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio is about 90 miles northwest of Columbus. 

"He loved football, he loved football all his life," Norberg recalled of his time with Armstrong. "He got to thinking, 'I'm planning to go to MIT, but you know, Purdue football...MIT football, you know that Purdue is just a couple hundred miles away, maybe I ought to take another look at Purdue University!' And he did."

The game was two years before Armstrong stepped foot in West Lafayette in 1947. At the time, Armstrong was 17-years-old and came to Purdue on a Navy scholarship to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering. 

Norberg says Armstrong was just like every other student choosing a college. He thinks the next Neil Armstrong could even be walking the campus today.

"Who knows if there was some young person or high school student in the stands in October of 2018 when Purdue solidly beat Ohio State in football that day," Norberg said. "Maybe a student was encouraged to come to Purdue by that game. Maybe that person will be the first person to step foot on Mars."

News 18's Trevor Peters will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing in the days leading up to July 20. In a special report, we will look back on that historic day in 1969, learn more about who Neil Armstrong was and look into how returning to the moon could be a reality in just the next five years. That's coming up the week of July 15th.

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