What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Of all people, I am the one who understands making the big road trip for a college football game. I’ve made a sixteen-hour one way drive just for a Penn State game in Happy Valley more times than I care to admit. If you think that is a bit much, ask yourself a question. What are you willing to do to see your favorite college team play? If you think a road trip for one game is nuts, let me introduce you to the craziest man in the world. His name is Wendell Wolka, and he is a Purdue fan.
Being Boiler faithful isn’t what makes him certifiable (however it doesn’t help); the fact that he hasn’t missed a Purdue football game in 35 years does. Known as “The King” for his black and gold Pharaoh lid, Wolka can tell you in detail about the last Purdue game played without him in attendance. According to Wolka, it was September 28, 1974, when he decided not to attend the Purdue game at Notre Dame. Feeling that cheering for Purdue in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus would be akin to backing the Christians in Rome, so he skipped it.
However, since he was living in nearby Chicago at the time, the game was tantalizingly available on the radio. Of course, he tuned in at the precise moment an overly-excited announcer was screaming about Purdue leading a stunned Notre Dame late in the 3rd quarter. Wolka, a 1971 Purdue graduate in mechanical engineering, entertained a thought as to whether he had time to drive the 100 miles to South Bend to be there for the possible upset. Time was not on his side, and he missed Purdue’s 31-20 victory. That’s when he decided not to miss another game.
He has kept that promise to himself. Beginning the next week, October 5, 1974 to be exact, Wolka has kept an attendance streak of 415 straight Boilermaker football games. However, the streak nearly never started with that road game at Duke. Thanks to some sketchy directions, Wolka ended up at North Carolina’s stadium in Chapel Hill instead of Duke’s in nearby Durham. Once he found the right place, he saw Purdue lose, 16-14.
Obviously, that isn’t the first time he has seen the Boilers blow it, and it also isn’t the first time the streak was threatened. Once in the mid-1980s Wolka was traveling on business in the Netherlands. He was running late and the jetway had been pulled from the plane as he arrived at his gate on a Friday afternoon. It was the last flight he could take and still make it to West Lafayette the next day. Wolka concocted story upon story for the airline workers; continually pleading his case until the airline workers relented and got him on the plane.
Another potential streak-buster came in the early 1990s when his boss at the time ordered him to a mandatory meeting in Texas. This mandatory meeting required that Wolka arrive in the Lone Star state on a Saturday. Now, this wouldn’t have been a problem had Purdue been playing Texas A&M, but the schedule wasn’t that kind. This particular Saturday saw the Boilers hosting Michigan at Ross-Ade. As he was living in Milwaukee at the time, Wolka made the 200-mile drive to West Lafayette to keep his streak alive. Then to remain employed, he hopped back in the car for a mad dash to Indianapolis, where he caught a flight to Houston, making it to the mandatory meeting with literally minutes to spare.
While you have to admire his dedication, one has to wonder…how nuts would this guy be if he was backing a team that didn’t suck? As a member of the class of ’71, Wolka was an underclassman during Purdue’s last Rose Bowl win in 1967. While that run for the roses may have been what hooked him, he’s stayed hooked. Wolka has shown this level of devotion to a program posting a 210-231 record since 1970.