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Loose end
Purdue's Stratton is solid on field, crazy off

LOS ANGELES - Tim Stratton is an idiot.

Tim Stratton is a scumbag.

Those are not editorial comments. They are Purdue quarterback Drew Brees' description of his teammate, followed by Stratton's description of what everyone else calls him.

And not once does he disagree.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound junior tight end is a walking prankster full of childish energy and immaturity.

"I have a good time," said Stratton. "I don't care about my public image. It's all for fun. Sometimes the coaches think I take it too far."

Well, actually, oftentimes the coaches think Stratton takes his prankster fun too far. And, they have more than enough evidence on their side to support such a claim.

In his three years at Purdue, Stratton has climbed into the stands to hang out with fans before the game; played catch with fans, also before a game, and broke a video cassette to use the tape to tie the film room door shut, with the entire Boilermakers linebacker corps still inside, causing them to be late for practice twice.

He has nicknamed Brees' prominent facial birthmark, "Pernick," after an old teammate. He was the catalyst of a small group of players who called other players, pretending to be agents and trying to get the inside track on signing them, making all sorts of outrageous promises.

But his most famous episode will follow him the rest of his football playing career and probably the rest of his life. After a come-from-behind win over Michigan, Stratton decided he would join the students that rushed on the field to celebrate the victory, and hang from the goal post.

He handed his helmet to a friend, who put it down on the ground and watched as Stratton climbed up and mounted the goal post. He climbed down and was crowd-surfed for what seemed like hours.

"Twenty thousand fans surfing me (across) half the field. It was incredible," Stratton said.

When Stratton returned to get the helmet, it was gone. He sheepishly told Purdue head coach Joe Tiller, expecting that Tiller would tell him to go to the equipment room and get a new helmet.

Instead, Tiller, who said he has to talk to Stratton about his eccentricities almost daily, told his star tight end he would be facing a suspension if the helmet wasn't found or if Stratton didn't pay for it. Suddenly the team joker wasn't laughing.

He placed an ad in the school paper asking for the return of the helmet, offering autographs and football paraphernalia in return. Other students offered to buy him a helmet; the local Burger King offered free burgers to anyone who returned the helmet. Alumni offered to purchase numerous helmets.

Stratton declined. He was holding out for the helmet's return, but by midweek he was still empty handed. Suspension was imminent.

Late Thursday night, Stratton's roommate got a call telling him the helmet was put back below the goal post in the football stadium. In it was a note thanking Stratton for all the fun the student had with the helmet.

Stratton had the helmet sanitized just in case.

"I take it to the extreme," Stratton said. "I think the coaches would like a little more maturity."

A little? Yeah, and the $13.5 million Rose Bowl payout is just spare change.

"He may be a media darling, but he's not my darling," said Tiller, at an 8:30 a.m. press conference. "I haven't had to have any discussions with Tim Stratton since, oh, 7:57 this morning."

But for all the problems and rolled eyes Stratton causes, nobody in West Lafayette, Indiana would trade him for any other tight end in the country.

"On and off the field, he's two different things," said Brees. "Off the field, he doesn't always think before he acts. On the field, he's one of the hardest workers and he knows how to play."

Better than any other tight end in the country. He has big, thick hands with a cotton-soft touch. He was Purdue's third leading receiver, catching 56 passes for 579 yards and two touchdowns. His efforts earned him the first ever John Mackey award, given to the nation's best tight end, and he was named first team All Big Ten.

"He's a great rout runner on third and short," said University of Washington Head Coach Rick Neuheisel. " And he's such a great one on one player."

Huskies nose tackle Larry Tripplett added: "It's not by accident that he got the Mackey award. He's an outstanding tight end. He's polished."

But nowhere near as polished as Tiller would like. For however good Stratton is as a receiver, he is as poor as a blocker. He's as physical as a light breeze, and blocks with about the same effort.

Stratton knows he has to work on being a better blocker and a much more physical player. He readily admits that his blocking style now, wouldn't work on an NFL scout team.

But those hands and the combination of good speed he runs a 4.8 forty-yard dash and will work this spring in hopes of getting it down below 4.7 has pro-scouts drooling over the possibilities.

And NFL equipment managers stocking up on extra helmets.