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A fan cave can go anywhere — even in a bathroom

Eric Jakubiak poses in the lockers he built to house his Purdue memorabilia collection.

Purdue graduate Eric Jakubiak used wood from several doors to build lockers that display Boilermaker memorabilia in his basement fan cave. (Purdue University photo/Greta Bell)

Eric Jakubiak remodeled his basement bathroom in gold and black during a pandemic quarantine

You wouldn’t necessarily look at the photo and understand its significance unless you were a Boilermaker — and even then, you’d need to be Eric Jakubiak or one of his friends to know the full story.

The photo features a group of college-aged boys wearing loud Hawaiian shirts and posing with a mustachioed, middle-aged gentleman wearing an outfit that emphasizes the black in Purdue’s signature gold-and-black color scheme.

The boys wearing Hawaiian shirts are Jakubiak and some of his Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity brothers from Purdue. “They did a blackout game at Mackey Arena for a basketball game and, for whatever silly reason, we all decided to wear Hawaiian shirts so we’d stick out like a sore thumb,” recalls Jakubiak (BSME ’03).

And the older gentleman in the photo who actually followed instructions by wearing black to the game? That’s Joe Tiller, the Boilermakers’ iconic football coach, whom Jakubiak and his buddies just happened to bump into in the basketball arena’s restroom. Fortunately, somebody had the good sense to snap a photo for posterity’s sake.

Eric Jakubiak and friends pose with Purdue football coach Joe Tiller at a Boilermaker basketball game.
One of Eric Jakubiak’s favorite items in his Purdue fan cave is a photo where he and several friends met Boilermaker football coach Joe Tiller during a basketball game at Mackey Arena. (Purdue University photo/Greta Bell)

“That’s definitely a good memory,” Jakubiak says.

The photo’s value is purely sentimental, and yet it’s one of Jakubiak’s favorite items in the handcrafted lockers in his basement that showcase his Purdue memorabilia. And it’s a perfect example of why so many folks love to create fan caves like his.

Whether you call it a fan cave, a she shed, a man cave or any of the countless variations, the great thing about these spaces is that they give their owner an opportunity to show visitors who they are.

What their interests are.

The cool stuff they’ve collected.

Personal accomplishments.

What they like to do in their free time.

Who, and what, they care about.

The basement of Jakubiak’s home in the western Chicago suburbs is just such a space. There’s a pool table and beer-related paraphernalia. There are models of equipment from Caterpillar, where he has worked for nearly two decades. And there’s enough Chicago Cubs memorabilia to make it abundantly clear where his loyalties lie during baseball season.

Then there’s the huge, gold-and-black basement bathroom, which the DIY enthusiast remodeled a couple of years ago during a 10-day quarantine after coming down with COVID-19.

Every time I walk in that bathroom, I have good memories.

Eric Jakubiak BSME ’03

“Fortunately, I only felt bad for a day and then I had nine days of doing nothing,” Jakubiak says. “And I can’t do nothing, so I worked on the bathroom the whole time.”

He had his dad drop off construction materials and then went to work, building the lockers for his Boilermaker collection out of some old doors. Adding to the locker room aesthetic, he hung two Boilermaker jerseys in there: the No. 15 jersey made famous by Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees on the side that houses mostly football items, and a plain Purdue basketball jersey on the side that is largely dedicated to hoops.

Jakubiak hopes to someday replace the two jerseys with one autographed by Brees himself, plus another signed by Purdue basketball legend Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, the 1994 national player of the year and No. 1 overall NBA draft pick.

“(Robinson) was a little bit before my time, but he was a guy that I watched when I was younger before I went to Purdue,” says Jakubiak, who grew up in Muncie, Indiana. “He’s one of the reasons I became a Purdue basketball fan.”

In the football locker next to the photo of Tiller, Jakubiak and his Hawaiian shirt-wearing pals is a ball that Tiller autographed with the inscription “Remember the Rose Bowl,” a reference to Purdue’s 2001 appearance in the oldest and most historic bowl game of them all.

But in reality, Jakubiak has no difficulty remembering Brees’ and the Boilermakers’ trip to Pasadena. He was there, too, and his ticket from the game is on display inside the case.

“That’s a cool memory because I got to fly out to the Rose Bowl when Purdue went there, and we haven’t been back since. It might have been a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Jakubiak says. “We lost to Washington, but it was a blast being there over New Year’s. That was super fun.”

Among other notable items in the lockers is another prized possession — a basketball autographed by Hall of Fame Boilermakers basketball coach Gene Keady — and lots of additional items with sentimental value like Purdue gifts from his family, fraternity big-brother paddles, and drinkware and art from the West Lafayette bars where Jakubiak and his friends spent many memorable nights in college.

The location of Jakubiak’s Purdue fan cave may seem a bit unusual — a fan bathroom is unique to say the least — but he nonetheless found a way to use the available space to memorialize a well-rounded college experience that he treasures. Taken as a whole, the displayed items strike a balance between memorabilia that any loyal Boilermaker would love to own as well as pieces that are significant only to him.

“Every time I walk in that bathroom, I have good memories,” he says.

As it should be in any fan cave.