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Meet the Boilermaker with the ‘world’s largest Purdue collection’

Purdue alumnus Chris Pate shows off some of the items in his massive Boilermaker collection

Chris Pate started at Purdue as a walk-on member of the golf team, but later moved to a position in the training room, where he acquired the initial items in his massive Boilermaker collection. (Purdue University photo/Greta Bell)

Chris Pate’s fan cave is full of museum-quality pieces of Purdue history

Chris Pate grew up during the pinnacle of America’s sports card craze, so he already had a collector’s disposition when he enrolled at Purdue in the mid-1990s.

Once he arrived in West Lafayette, however, the stars aligned in such a way that his interest in sports memorabilia — particularly Purdue memorabilia — evolved into a full-blown obsession.

“When I was a Purdue student, everyone was good,” Pate says. “Drew Brees was throwing footballs in Ross-Ade Stadium. The women’s basketball team won the 1999 national championship. The men’s basketball team went to the Sweet 16 a couple times, and the Elite Eight and won a Big Ten championship. It was definitely an exciting time to be on campus.”

That excitement inspired Pate to begin collecting, starting with a few jerseys acquired while working in the Purdue athletics equipment room as a student. His first big-ticket item, a Big Ten championship ring, came a few weeks after graduating from Purdue with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in December 1999. And that was only the beginning.

Over the next two-plus decades, Pate has built a staggering collection packed with so many Purdue mementos that his fan cave basement in southern Indiana has nearly run out of available space.

“I don’t want to chest-beat or anything,” he says, “but I’m pretty sure I’ve got the world’s largest Purdue collection.”

He’s not exaggerating.

Museum-quality significance

As big as it is — with easily more than 1,000 Purdue items — the more impressive aspect of Pate’s collection is the museum-quality significance of some of the pieces. To name only a few:

  • Purdue’s game ball from the 1967 Rose Bowl win over Southern California, plus a team-signed football presented to Boilermaker astronaut Roger Chaffee that day in Pasadena.
  • Brees’ jersey from the 2001 Rose Bowl, the most recent time the Boilermakers appeared in the “Granddaddy of Them All,” plus jerseys from two other iconic athletes who were active during Pate’s days as a Purdue student: basketball stars Brian Cardinal and Stephanie White. “It’s pretty cool that, of our three major sports, I’ve got the jersey of my favorite player from each one,” Pate says.
  • The first tickets issued for the 1924 dedication game of Ross-Ade Stadium — untorn, no less — plus tickets to the 1967 dedication game for Mackey Arena.
  • A game program from every Purdue-Indiana gridiron battle for the Old Oaken Bucket, and tickets from every Bucket game except 1925 and 1926. “Anybody that’s got those, we need to talk,” Pate says, offering his email address (chris@boilerup.com) to any potential sellers.
  • A ticket to the Purdue-Indiana basketball game from 1932, the year Purdue won its only national championship to date in men’s basketball. The back of the ticket is adorned with a unique autograph from “Johnny” Wooden, an All-American guard on the 1932 team who would go on to become one of the most successful head coaches in college basketball history.
  • The 1994 Chicago Tribune Silver Basketball award presented to Purdue All-American Glenn Robinson as the Big Ten’s most valuable player, along with other awards and game-worn jerseys from the Big Dog himself.

We could go on, but you get the idea. This is no garden-variety assortment of Purdue stuff. Pate owns so many jaw-dropping pieces of Purdue memorabilia that he’s running low on bucket-list acquisitions that he still hopes to find.

“Honestly, it’s hard to find things I don’t have, so I get excited when I come across even a smaller thing that’s rare or unique that I don’t have or often see,” Pate says.

Loaning to Purdue

Pate gets an understandable kick out of wowing his Boilermaker buddies with some of the items he has managed to acquire through the years, but as a loyal alumnus, he also believes it’s necessary to share with his alma mater.

And Purdue is more than willing to help alleviate some of the overcrowding issues in Pate’s basement, rotating a number of loaned historical artifacts — trophies, jerseys, tickets, programs and other items from Boilermaker basketball icons like Robinson, Wooden, Gene Keady, Rick Mount and Ward “Piggy” Lambert, to name a handful — through displays at Mackey Arena and the Mollenkopf Athletic Center. Pate says plans are in the works to display even more items on a year-round basis at the expansive Pete Dye Clubhouse currently under construction at Purdue’s Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex.

As much as I love having all of this stuff here, a lot of it really needs to be on display at Purdue. It’s really too good to just be in my basement.

Chris Pate
BSEE ’99

“As much as I love having all of this stuff here, a lot of it really needs to be on display at Purdue. It’s really too good to just be in my basement,” says Pate, who works at the Naval Support Activity Crane military base located 75 miles south of Indianapolis. “We’re working to make that happen.”

In the meantime, he’ll remain on the lookout for unique items like gold award charms, Pate’s absolute favorite Purdue pieces to track down. He explains that, before awarding championship rings became a common practice, athletes would instead receive gold charms engraved with their names, logos and other meaningful adornments like scores from significant games.

He owns charms from many different schools, but his favorite Boilermaker versions came from Duane Purvis — the two-time All-American running back from Purdue in the 1930s who is arguably more famous for the peanut butter cheeseburger named in his honor at the local Triple XXX Family Restaurant — and Clyde Lyle, who led Purdue to a 1928 conference championship and won the 1929 Big Ten Medal of Honor, one of the most prestigious awards in collegiate athletics.

“I’m fortunate enough to own several of those from over the years, and there are a couple of football ones, in particular, that I couldn’t part with if somebody offered me a million dollars. I just love them that much,” Pate says. “Now my wife, if she heard me say that, she’d swat me over the head with a game-used Purdue baseball bat. But those charms, they’re my favorite.”

Those rare gold charms are yet another example of how Pate has assembled a Purdue collection that is truly one-of-a kind. And yet he looks back on the environment at Purdue that first inspired him to begin collecting and recognizes something similar today:

  • A women’s basketball program that returned to the NCAA Tournament last season under second-year coach Katie Gearlds, a program alumna.
  • And a football program that appeared in its first Big Ten Championship Game in 2022 and now features an energetic young head coach in Ryan Walters.

Who knows, perhaps the excitement today’s Boilermakers generate will inspire some young Purdue fan to become the next Chris Pate.

Count Pate himself among those who believe it’s possible.

“I’ve got a few buddies who are current Purdue students, and I tell them, ‘Hey, soak it up. You’ll remember these times for the rest of your life: the Big Ten West championship last year and then the basketball team’s success and everything else,’” Pate says.

“I think that cultivates not only fans, but in lots of cases, it also cultivates collectors like me.”

I don’t want to chest-beat or anything, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got the world’s largest Purdue collection.

Chris Pate BSEE ’99