By CLIFF BRUNT
I asked Robert Marve about how he has dealt with the fact that Purdue coach Danny Hope has spent the better part of the past few years trying to rein him in.
“On or off the field?”
That honest response tells a lot about Purdue’s new starting quarterback.
In national football circles, Marve is probably best known as one of the players named in the University of Miami football scandal. Maybe he’s thought of as the guy who gets injured seemingly every other week. Perhaps he’s viewed as the guy who never lived up to his potential. Or the one who occasionally serves up ill-advised interceptions because his supreme confidence (or overconfidence) in his cannon-like right arm.
Whichever of those ways he’s known, none are good. Marve came to Purdue with a reputation of being difficult to deal with. But if you listen to him speak, if you listen to his teammates or his coach, there is much more good than one might expect.
In just a few years, through his trials, Marve has gone from loose cannon to leader, from wild stallion to stabilizer. He credits it all to his faith in God and Jesus Christ, faith that might just save Purdue’s disappointing season, starting with Saturday’s home game against Penn State.
I know, there are a lot of people who are Tebowed out and don’t want to hear about another quarterback talking about Jesus. And Marve, with his swagger and tattoos, seems more like the guy you’d warn your daughters about than a believer.
But look at the fruit.
While Marve fought through three ACL tears to his left knee, injuries that have left one of Purdue’s most talented quarterbacks ever on the shelf for much of his career, one thing was consistent through his interviews: his references to Christianity. He mentioned it several times on Tuesday as he explained his unlikely road back to the podium at Purdue’s weekly news conference in the time slot reserved for the starting quarterback. The former Florida Mr. Football and son of an ex-NFL player, Marve offered perspective well beyond his years.
“Even with Jesus Christ this year, my relationship with the Lord has grown even more,” he said. “I’m not sad about nothing that’s happened to me. I almost feel like I might have needed it. It’s matured me, it’s humbled me, it’s shown me how precious life can be, how to view things outside of family, the stuff you desire and care about.”
It all seems trite until you listen to how Marve has affected his teammates. He spoke to them after Purdue’s disappointing loss to Minnesota last Saturday. No less than Kawann Short was blown away.
“He had a speech for us and he pretty much made a lot of us shed tears in our eyes,” Short said. “Just saying, he knows he probably won’t go to the next level, but he’s still playing every game like it’s his last, and he’s doing it for us.”
But it’s not just what he has said, it’s what he has done. The way he has responded to the ACL tears has resonated with his teammates. He hasn’t complained, hasn’t felt sorry for himself. He just went to work.
“Three ACLs,” Short said, really pondering it. “I never had one (torn), but just hearing the stories from the guys, it’s very hard and it takes a long time to heal. For him to come back and still want to play football still and have that love in the game and not worry about that injury, it just makes everybody around him keep their spirit up.”
Marve has impressed his coach, too.
“I have a lot of respect for Robert Marve based on what he’s been through,” Hope said. “I haven’t been around many players throughout my 30 years of coaching, most of it college coaching, that paid as big a price and received as little in return as what Robert Marve has. He’s paid an unbelievable price to be a great player.”
Marve started the season opener against Eastern Kentucky after starter Caleb TerBush was suspended for a game. Marve passed for 295 yards and three touchdowns, but Hope gave TerBush the starting job again after the suspension.
Marve tore his ACL again the next week when he was sacked at Notre Dame. It was unclear if he would play football again.
“I talked to some doctors that didn’t think it was going to happen,” Marve said. “I didn’t know that it was possible to come back off tearing an ACL, to come back to play (so soon). The more I did the research, the more I saw that my body has accepted what happened.”
After vowing to return, Marve stepped in against Michigan on Oct. 6, just a month after his latest injury, and played well. After he threw two touchdown passes against Minnesota, Hope benched TerBush and made Marve the starter.
“I don’t know why everything happens the way it does, but I know when it does, I’ve got to be ready and prepared for my opportunity,” Marve said.
Now, Marve is pain free, giving him a greater testimony. And how that he’s the starter, he has a much larger congregation.
It will grow even more if he wins. A pain-free Marve gives Purdue a chance. He’s a scrambler who looks to make the big play, exactly what has been missing all season. He creates an energy that has been lacking. And of course, there’s that big arm.
“I’m a true believer,” he said. “Everything happens for a reason. My faith is in God. I don’t know why my knee isn’t hurting, but it’s not.”
Part of Marve’s charm is his brutal honesty, the kind you don’t normally find in a sports world filled with carefully planned quotes that don’t bring you any closer to the athlete. Marve is refreshing. He’s unfiltered. He’s real. For all of Tebow’s talk, we don’t really know much about him other than that he plays football and he’s a Christian. Marve doesn’t carry himself the way some grandmas might like, but I’ll take the raw Christian over the neatly packaged one any day. What you see is what you get: an imperfect young man seeking something greater.
And what you get is a leader of men, not just in word, but in action, which is exactly what Christ calls us to be. While leaning heavily on his faith, Marve’s transformation has led others to follow him. His work, in turn, has been blessed in ways that don’t make sense under normal circumstances.
“I think the fact that he emerged, he stepped into the huddle again — he certainly deserves the respect of his coaches and players and anyone that’s ever put on a helmet or knows anything about the game of football,” Hope said.
Make no mistake, Marve’s swagger is still there. He expects to make it happen on Saturday. Nothing wrong with that, so long as he understands where those gifts came from and he uses them to help others. It’s pretty clear he’s OK on both counts.
Perhaps this whole faith thing is overblown, right? Maybe it all would have happened anyway, with or without mention of the name Jesus. Well, all I know is I’ve just seen a miracle happen, the man talked about Jesus all the way through his challenges, now he’s healed and others are following him. And because of his faith, no matter what happens Saturday or the rest of the season, Marve’s story will have a happy ending because he’ll handle it the right way.
Marve was asked what he thought about inspiring others, and he left us with this:
“I hope it’s to inspire people to stay positive, to keep working, to understand your situation, to understand the best way to push through it.”