Robert Marve laughed this week when I asked him if he had any aspirations of playing in the NFL.
"No," he said. "I'm just worried about playing Wisconsin next week. That's about as far as my thoughts were going."
It wasn't too long ago when playing pro football seemed like a natural course for Marve. His father, Eugene, played in the NFL. Robert was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country after breaking Tim Tebow's Florida high school state records. He started for Miami as a redshirt freshman in 2008.
But Marve's career has taken plenty of twists and turns since then, and now all he wants is a chance to play a few more games. Live for today. Don't worry about tomorrow.
That's why the Purdue sixth-year senior was, rather amazingly, on the field in the second half of last week's loss to Michigan, playing less than a month after he tore the ACL in his left knee on Sept. 8. Other than the large brace he wore on his knee, there were no signs that Marve was stiff-arming an injury that usually sidelines athletes for several months.
"It's been real surprising," he said. "In the Notre Dame game, I had an ankle sprain that hurt a lot more than my knee ever did."
What Marve is doing is unusual but not unprecedented. San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers played in the 2008 AFC championship game after tearing his ACL. Still, it does carry risk, as Marve could seriously damage the cartilage in his knee by not having the ACL repaired.
His most recent injury was the third torn ACL of his college career. The first came in 2009, after he transferred to Purdue from Miami. The second happened early in the 2010 season, after he had started the first four games for the Boilermakers.
The latest tear wasn't as severe as the previous two. Marve checked with Purdue's training staff and several doctors, who gave him examples of other athletes who had played through the injury.
"They all said it was doable," Marve said. "But I think they're a little surprised with the way I'm bouncing around out here."
Marve returned to practice just a couple of weeks after the injury, but his coaches were understandably cautious about putting him back to full contact work, let alone a game. But Marve got his chance in the 44-13 loss to Michigan and gave the struggling Boilers a noticeable spark. He led the team on a drive that ended in a field goal on his first series before throwing an interception the next possession. He completed 5-of-8 passes for 43 yards.
He also took a couple of big hits, including a leveling from Wolverines linebacker Jake Ryan.
"The one hit that tore my knee at Notre Dame was such a vicious hit," he said. "My leg got stuck in the ground, and I probably can't take another hit like that. But it felt good to get knocked around a little bit [on Saturday]."
Purdue's energy level seems to go up when Marve is in the game. Coach Danny Hope said Marve gave the team "a shot in the arm" against Michigan and that his successful return made the coaches comfortable with playing him more in the future.
That's all Marve wants. His career has not gone the way he once envisioned it; he lost his starting job at Miami before transferring, then suffered the two injuries and served as a backup last season. He started this year's opener for Purdue and played well at Notre Dame while splitting time with Caleb TerBush. For the first time, he said, he felt like his physical and mental skills were matching up at the same time.
Then he got hurt again. But he wasn't going to let that be the end of the story.
"This is a special time in your life, and you only get so much time to play," he said. "I came a long way from Tampa to Purdue to play football, and I really wanted to accomplish that this year.
"I'd really love it to get rolling again like I did the first two games and get back in the rotation. I feel like I can help the team win a couple of big games."
Marve said he didn't experience any swelling or soreness in his knee after Saturday's game, and he was out there running around during Sunday's practice. Is he a medical Marve-l? Maybe. Or maybe he's just a guy who's extremely motivated to live for today.
"The body's really funny sometimes, and you never know how a person's body is going to respond," he said. "I think it's very situational, and I'm in a special situation. My back's against the wall, and I don't have much to lose."