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Bill O'Brien Press Conference: Purdue Boilermakers

Bill O'Brien appears old timey, and reads from Joseph Conrad in this week's press conference.

Coach O'Brien retelling Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Coach O'Brien retelling Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

We scurried out of the cold and into the media room, shook the storm from our jackets, and found a raised stage in place of the usual podium and microphone. A fireplace crackled near the far end of the stage, sharing its warm glow with the hardened beat writers of central Pennsylvania. Blue velvet curtains wrapped the shoulders of the stage, while a solitary old leather wing chair stood staring back at us, comforted only by its matching ottoman. Otherwise cold, dark and mysterious, the room beckoned us sit.

Bill O'Brien, dressed in a dark suit, strode across the stage without noticing us. The lighting took deeper, sepia, tones until we all thought we were staring at an old tin-type photograph. Coach O'Brien took his place in the chair, poured himself a bourbon, lit a pipe, set his feet on the ottoman, and began to speak as if telling a story.

"Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine."

In weeks past we'd seen Coach O'Brien impersonate Ric Flair, enter the presser in a six-fo Impala, and direct Zach Zwinak to beat up Charlie Fisher from The Karate Kid dojo. But this was dark, much darker than any of those previous episodes. Had the recent loss's disaffection deranged him? As we struggled to take in the scene, and stared down the bourbon bottle lecherously, Coach O'Brien continued:

"Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you—you so remote from the night of first ages—could comprehend. And why not? The mind of man is capable of anything—because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future. What was there after all? Joy, fear, sorrow, devotion, valor, rage—who can tell?—but truth—truth stripped of its cloak of time. Let the fool gape and shudder—the man knows, and can look on without a wink. But he must at least be as much of a man as these on the shore. He must meet that truth with his own true stuff—with his own inborn strength. Principles? Principles won't do. Acquisitions, clothes, pretty rags—rags that would fly off at the first good shake. No; you want a deliberate belief."

What in the hell was Coach O'Brien talking about? 'Going up a river'? 'These men on shore'? Was this supposed to be some kind of metaphor on the football season, or was he actually talking about taking the team up the Susquehanna? Rich Scarella had lifted his head for a second, as if contemplating the man's sanity, and then dropped it down again to scribble another note - the man had probably lost his mind after McGloin's pick-six to start the 3rd quarter. (Perhaps we could pirate the bourbon without his noticing, then?) Coach O'Brien paused in reflection at the grim specter of his tale, but then pressed on, resolved, almost eager for the brewing combat.

"Droll thing life is—that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself—that comes too late—a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable grayness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamor, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be. I was within a hair's-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say. This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had summed up—he had judged. 'The horror!'"

The curtain closed on the stage, and we sat in stunned bewilderment. Was the bourbon gone? And then we began to mumble to each other: 'Kurtz....up a river....'the horror'?' O'Brien had played the role of Marlow, we realized, speaking a few selected passages from Joey Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Then suddenly the curtain lifted, and there was O'Brien smiling, waving one hand in the air. We all stood and cheered, and made our way to the coach and the bourbon, save one person with frosted tips and a high schooler's goatee, the kind grown only to disguise youth. 'None for that little one', O'Brien's eyes spoke, echoing a fiery brilliance off the hollow walls. We turned and watched the little one shrink back into his seat, like a garden gnome vanishing behind an unpruned boxwood somewhere in suburbia. The stage and the bourbon were for men, the wild, untamed sort, seeking peril, playfully winking at death. We drank, smirked, and spoke only in grunts - the knowing grunts of the jungle beasts.

And Then The Presser Started

Q: What did you see in the video (of Ohio State game) about the offensive line play?
Coach O'Brien: I don't think anyone played the way that they were capable of playing on either side of the ball or special teams. Again, give Ohio State credit, but I think the offensive line had flashes where they did play well. I think some of the sacks were pressures, where the ball has to come out or maybe someone missed a pickup in the backfield or at tight end. I don't think you can put everything on the offensive line. I don't think anyone played particularly well, nor did we coach that well that night. We're moving onto Purdue and we're going to try to do a better job.

Q: With the QB situation at Purdue, what's the game plan heading into the game with Robert Marve being announced as starter after not starting the last few games?
Coach O'Brien: I'm not going to give you the gameplan. We're just looking forward to the challenge of playing Purdue. In my opinion, they're a very, very good team, a dangerous team. They have players on both sides of the ball that are playmakers. It's going to be a very difficult game.

Q: What are your thoughts about the Purdue offense? What challenges do they present to you guys?
Coach O'Brien: They present a lot of challenges. The thing that you have to do when you play an offense like Purdue, a very multiple offense that does a lot of different things, is that you have to play well within the framework of your defense. You've got to play well on third down. They're going to have things on third down that maybe you haven't seen on tape, they're a game plan type team. Those are things that we're really working hard at this week and it's a big challenge for us on the road, at Purdue, a good coaching staff and good players. It will be a tough game.

Injuries, Injuries, Injuries

Q: How has Kyle Carter felt? His ankle was wrapped up as he was walking off the field.
Coach O'Brien: I think that's going to be a day-to-day thing and I'll know better at the end of the week. He seems to be doing okay.

Q: In regard to Bill Belton, how much did the ankle injury set him back while he was still learning a new position at running back?
Coach O'Brien: Anytime you get injured and you miss reps and other guys are getting those reps, it's hard to get back into the grove. I think he did against Iowa. I don't think our whole team played very well against Ohio State; give Ohio State a lot of credit. I think Billy has shown flashes of getting back in there and he's continuing to compete and he'll compete this week.

Q: How has Belton's mindset been? Has he stayed pretty upbeat?
Coach O'Brien: If you know Billy, he's a pretty laid-back guy, so it's tough to tell with him. He seems to be doing fine.

Other Crap

Q: Offensively, what are you looking for against a Purdue defense that has had its ups-and-downs this year?
Coach O'Brien: They have a very talented defense. They have two inside tackles that are really, really good players. It starts there. The linebacking corps is solid. The secondary is very, very solid with big, physical guys. We've got a big challenge. We've got to go back to playing good, fundamental football and we have to do a great job in practice this week of preparing our players. We have to get back out there and compete better than we did as a coaching staff and as players against Ohio State.

Q: You guys have been pretty opportunistic most of the season. How big of an emphasis is that after a game where you probably missed some opportunities?
Coach O'Brien: Again, give Ohio State a lot of credit. We did; we missed some opportunities on both sides of the ball and on special teams. Again, it goes back to this is a great group of kids that came back to practice last night ready to go, they worked extremely hard and are looking forward to the challenge of playing Purdue.

Q: How have the guys responded to the loss over the last couple of days?
Coach O'Brien: I think these guys came back to work yesterday and were ready to go. Again, we have a great senior class and they realize that they have only four opportunities left and it starts here with Purdue. It all starts with that leadership. I believe these guys have put that game behind them and we all have. It's time to move on and we started that process yesterday.

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