Northern Illinois University student John Nazorek of Oak Lawn waits to board a bus to Miami to watch the Huskies take on Florida State University in the Orange Bowl. | Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 2, 2013 6:09AM
College football is for people who like football, unless it’s your college, in which case college football is for you, too, even if you can’t tell a tight end from a linebacker.
Case in point: The Huskies of Northern Illinois University. They are playing in the Orange Bowl today. Millions of Americans will watch the game on TV, most of them actual sports fans. But also watching will be hundreds of thousands of NIU students and alumni who, until recently, thought the Orange Bowl was simply an orange-colored bowl or, conversely, any bowl in which one puts oranges.
We kid you not. NIU not so long ago was a college in the cornfields where almost nobody paid attention to the football team, where the great Friday evening ritual was catching a bus back to Chicago for the weekend, where Saturday afternoons in the dorms were devoted to study and hangover recovery, where Saturday nights meant keggers in drab apartment complexes with names like “Suburban Estates,” and where Sundays were devoted to a little more study and a lot more hangover recovery, even as half the student body rolled back in from Chicago.
Football was for better known universities with, frankly, higher tuitions — Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Ohio State and the like. Most annoying was the University of Illinois, NIU’s smugly more impressive brother — ooh, the Illiniweks — competing in the self-satisfied Big Ten.
But now NIU is in the Orange Bowl, which as everybody has come to learn is not a bowl of oranges but an annual football game played in South Florida.
And it’s a big game, one of the major bowls.
Throngs of NIU students and alumni will be watching this New Year’s Day, throwing out oddly foreign cries like “Go Huskies!” and thinking all the while, “This must be what it’s like to go to Notre Dame.”