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Huskie fans head to Florida for NIU’s first Orange Bowl visit

Northern Illinois University student John Nazorek Oak Lawn waits board bus Miami watch Huskies take University Miami 
Orange Bowl.

Northern Illinois University student John Nazorek of Oak Lawn waits to board a bus to Miami to watch the Huskies take on University of Miami in the Orange Bowl. | Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media

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Twenty-six buses filled with 1,300 Northern Illinois University students and more than 50 trip advisers pulled out of the university’s Convocation Center on Sunday morning to begin the 23-hour trip to the 2013 Discover Orange Bowl in Miami, Fla.

The NIU Huskies are the first Mid-American Conference football team to earn a berth at the Bowl Championship Series game, according to NIU officials. They went 12-1 and won their second MAC championship with a double-overtime victory over Kent State.

In celebration of Orange Bowl Fever, NIU’s Altgeld Hall has been bathed in an orange glow at night. Like the 1999 Chicago Cows on Parade, decorated fiberglass Huskies sporting an orange or two have popped up all over DeKalb. Olive Goyle, the NIU headless gargoyle, was given a dozen oranges to hold.

Jody Boardman, manager of the Village Commons Bookstore at NIU, has seen a surge in the sale of Huskie shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs, hats and other items.

“We’re all very excited for the team,” Boardman said. “We’ve never had such a big event. This year, our Huskies are back-to-back MAC champs.”

The cost for the university-sponsored student travel package, which included round-trip bus transportation and hotel, was $150 per student. Tickets to the game are free to NIU students. Recent NIU graduate Tom Voogt of Orland Park was surprised at how quickly the travel packages were sold.

“They sold out in eight minutes,” Voogt said. “I was on the first waiting list even though I logged on right away.”

“You can’t beat the price,” said NIU senior Jim “Hot” Wagner of Manhattan, Ill. “It’s great that NIU is helping to get everyone out there.”

Jay Orbik, NIU director of media services, sponsored eight NIU students from Illinois so they could go on the trip. They are Julianna Kallstrom, Dalia Hollins, Clay Janicke, Jessica Biller, Laura Bauer, Derek Johnson, Kevinne Stredde, and Tiffany Harris.

NIU junior Zach Fiegel of Harvard predicted that the Huskies will win the game 31-27 in overtime.

“I’ve never been to Miami before,” Fiegel said. “It will great to see (NIU quarterback) Jordan Lynch and the Huskies put in some work.”

NIU senior Jeremy Dunk of Oak Lawn predicted that the Huskies will win 27-13.

“The Huskies are fun to watch,” Dunk said.

In addition to the game, Dunk is looking forward to the warm weather and the “babes in bikinis.”

Wenjing Li of Jixi, Heilongjiang Province in China, is a recent NIU graduate. She is going to Miami to show her support for the Huskies.

Members of the NIU Alumni Association will ring in 2013 at Jungle Island in Miami. The association, in partnership with the Huskie Athletic Support Fund, will also host a pregame reception with buffet and cash bar.

For the biggest game in NIU history, NIU Alumni Association watch parties are planned in Chicago, DeKalb, Oakbrook Terrace and Rockford. There will also be official and unofficial alumni association watch parties across the country.

“This is unprecedented for our conference and for our university,” said Jeff Compher, NIU associate vice president and athletics director. “It’s a day that all of our alumni, current students and fans will remember forever with tremendous pride. I know the Orange Bowl Committee and the city of Miami will provide a great experience for Huskie Nation.”

NIU head coach Rod Carey will coach his first NIU game at Discover Orange Bowl. Carey was promoted to head coach on Dec. 2, the same day that NIU was selected to play the Florida State Seminoles in Miami.

Carey replaced Dave Doeren, who coached two seasons at NIU and led the team to its first MAC championship since 1983. Doeren went 23-4 in two seasons before leaving for North Carolina State.

NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch is the first player in National Collegiate Athletic Association history to eclipse 400 passing yards and 150 rushing yards in the same game — 407 passing, 166 rushing against the Toledo Rockets.

Lynch was a quarterback at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago. NIU was the only college to offer him a scholarship. Former NIU coach Jerry Kill said that Lynch “plays quarterback like a safety plays defense.”

Lynch finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting. Quarterback Johnny Manziel of the Texas A&M Aggies was named the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.

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