At the beginning of the Rick Mount era of Purdue basketball, a new arena was built to replace Lambert Fieldhouse next door. The year was 1967 and the facility was Mackey Arena. For over 40 years, this domed building with the aluminum roof has held rowdy Boilermaker crowds. While the program has never claimed a National Championship in the tournament era (they were Champions in 1932), they have seen their fair share of success, including 23 Big Ten Championships entering the 2012-2013 season.
Purdue has been the home of two national players of the year as well. Glenn Robinson took the honor in 1994, and the best known coach in the history of college basketball, won player of the year honors in 1932, his third straight year as an All-American. Interestingly, they both wore the same jersey number, and Robinson's #13 and Wooden's #13 hang in the rafters with the numbers of Rick Mount, Joe Barry Carroll, E'Twaun Moore, and JaJuan Johnson, among others. Purdue doesn't retire numbers, but instead hangs these banners to recognize consensus All-Americans.
Mackey Arena is a special place. First, it's in Indiana, and basketball always feels just a little better in Indiana. Second, when you can boast that John Wooden played at your University, then you have established yourself as a historic basketball institution. Finally, this place is loud! Bring your ear plugs, and get ready for some great Big Ten basketball.
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The concession offerings at Mackey Arena are diverse. Each concession stand offers some basics like hot dogs ($5), brats ($5), popcorn ($7 bottomless), and Coke products ($4 for a medium and $6 for a souvenir size).
Purdue Pete's Cantina gives you Mexican selections, including nachos grande ($8), chicken burrito ($6), quesadillas ($5), and tamales ($6). Smashers has several varities of Panini-style sandwiches (Buffalo chicken, short ribs, grilled cheese, patty melt, and Italian, $8 each). As you continue to walk the concourse, you'll find meatball skewers ($10), pizza ($6), BBQ pork sandwich or nachos ($8), fried pork tenderloin ($7), veggie chop salad ($7), and fruit cups ($6).
If you're really feeling hungry, try the Big Mackey burger topped with macaroni & cheese and bacon, or the Big Boiler burger topped with waffle fries, chili sauce, and nacho cheese ($8 each). Besides Coke products, you can also grab a hot coffee or cappuccino ($3), especially good during the temperatures of the Big Ten season.
The interior design of Mackey Arena is pretty simple. It's a domed circular seating arrangement offers mostly bench seating on black or gold plastic bleachers. There are a few exceptions with large black leather seats for sections 8-11.
Purdue Pete is a likable and active mascot, as is the pep band, which has a great electric guitar added to its ensemble. The band rocks out every opportunity they get. The students are situated behind each basket, bookending the court and creating a hostile environment for the opponents.
The noise, combined with the history associated with the program, and the high level of play, makes for a great basketball experience.
Downtown West Lafayette is just under a mile away, and a very pleasant walk through the Purdue campus. Park your car on Grant Street near a Purdue institution, Harry's Chocolate Shop. Harry's has been around since 1919, originally as a soda fountain shop. Today, it is the best bar in town, and they also have really good food, and reasonable prices. If you come to Purdue, then this is the place you must go. On my most recent trip I had the patty melt and some of their homemade potato chips topped with gorgonzola. They also were serving a very tasty local IPA from People's Brewing Company in Lafayette.
Walking through campus be sure to check out the Purdue Clock Tower, and the statue of Neil Armstrong, a Purdue alumnus, located outside of the Hall of Engineering at the corner of Northwestern and Stadium Avenues. The Boilermaker statue should also be on your sightseeing checklist. It's located up the hill from Mackey Arena, outside the gates to Ross Ade Stadium on University Drive.
The students are fantastic, and Purdue does a good job of putting them in a position to affect the outcome of a game as much as possible. The opponent's end is near one student section (the louder end) as well as the pep band. It must make drawing up a play during timeouts extremely difficult. The students are also on the other end of the court waving their arms on a key free throw, or generally just making noise. The students are known as the Paint Crew for their support of head coach Matt Painter. The standard cheer is just a general "ohhh" sort of sound. Not creative by any means, but it will ring in your ears for hours after the contest.
The remaining fans are knowledgeable and are engaged in the game throughout, standing and clapping during breaks in the action. I've said it before, there's just something special about basketball fans in Indiana.
Be ready around the 10 minute mark of the second half, as Purdue fans have a special cheer directed against rival Indiana University, ending with a boisterous "IU SUCKS!" It's pretty fun (unless you happen to be a fan/grad of IU).
Many of the surrounding lots require you to have a pass in advance, so keep that in mind when planning your trip and consider purchasing beforehand. My recommendation is to park at the parking garage located around 100 N Grant Street so you can be near downtown as well as walk the lovely Purdue campus on your way to Mackey Arena. The lot only charges $1 per hour.
Restrooms are as clean as I have seen at an arena, and large enough to accommodate the crowds. The concourses were widened during recent renovations, so you should have no problem moving around the arena.
Tickets are either $25 for the lower sections or $15 for the upper section. Food feels a little overpriced, and parking is reasonable. You should definitely opt for the upper seat. One of the great things about this sort of layout is that all seats are great for seeing the game. That said, my recommendation would be to sit in sections 109-111 for the best center court view of the game.
One extra point for naming the floor Coach Keady Court, after long-time legendary coach Gene Keady. It is always a nice touch when a coach like Keady is acknowledged.
I was also really impressed with how many fans sang along with the National Anthem. Maybe it was just the acoustics of the building, but it seemed like 75% of the fans were singing along.
Finally, an extra point for the way that the Paint Crew is introduced during the starting line-ups, as the official 6th man of the Purdue Boilermakers. It is a really neat and unique touch.
Purdue really does offer one of the better college basketball environments that I have seen. The prices are affordable, and the feeling is unforgettable. Unfortunately, the hearing loss may be permanent. That aside, this is a venue that every college basketball fan should add to their must-see list.
Basketball is always a little bit better in the state of Indiana. Purdue University is often the forgotten step-child of Indiana basketball, but a trip to Mackey Arena will still be an enjoyable experience.
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