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Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey, players enjoying Orange Bowl limelight

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Northern IlLinois
vs. Florida state

The facts: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Miami Gardens, Fla., ESPN.

Updated: January 30, 2013 6:12AM

MIAMI SHORES, Fla. — Before this week, Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey never had been to Fogo de Chão.

‘‘I don’t even know how to say that,’’ he said of the Brazilian steak house where NIU dined the other night.

While this is primarily a business trip for the Huskies, they also are enjoying the rewards of becoming the first Mid-American Conference team to earn a BCS bowl berth.

‘‘It’s the Orange Bowl; they know how to do it,’’ Carey said. ‘‘They’ve been around for 70 years. No disrespect to the other ones we’ve been to. They’re good. But these guys are top-notch.’’

Nothing wrong with the Mobile, Ala., Marriott where NIU stayed for its Bowl appearance a year ago. But the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach is a luxury icon.

‘‘I can’t imagine anything better than this,’’ Carey said. ‘‘They have a car to drive me back and forth to practice. [In DeKalb] I have to drive myself everywhere. My wife doesn’t even drive me. Now I have someone driving me. That’s crazy.’’

Middle linebacker Victor Jacques, from Miami’s Christopher Columbus High School, was so excited about this homecoming that he went to a DeKalb tattoo parlor this month and had the Miami skyline tattooed on his arm. It also features a palm tree, a dolphin and an Orange Bowl logo hovering over it all like the sun.

‘‘That’s the city of Miami, where I grew up, and things I used to see a lot,’’ said Jacques, one of 11 Floridians on the NIU roster, including eight potential starters. ‘‘The little Orange Bowl on the side solidifies a dream come true.

‘‘Watching it as a kid, and now that I’m able to play in it, it’s quite an experience. I had [the tattoo] done two weeks before we came down. I said to the artist, ‘This has to be spot-on or we’re not going to do it.’ I’m extremely happy with it. It’s not finished, but the important parts are done.’’

That sort of sums up the Huskies’ feelings about a season that will conclude with their unprecedented appearance Tuesday in the Orange Bowl against Florida State.

‘‘It’s a big stage for us, and we love it,’’ Carey said. ‘‘We wanted this. We worked for this. We earned this. We’re not shying away from it. We’re here to win the football game. Otherwise, what are you playing the game for?’’

Despite all the pampering and the distractions of South Beach, Carey and his staff believe their players are mature enough to not be wide-eyed when it’s time to prepare and perform.

This is the fourth consecutive bowl trip for NIU’s seniors, who have played in Toronto, Boise and Mobile the last three postseasons. But those games don’t have the allure of Miami.

‘‘I don’t think it’s been more difficult,’’ defensive coordinator Jay Niemann said. ‘‘The magnitude of this game is greater, but the process is still the same in terms of knowing when it’s time to practice, when it’s time to play — and separating those things from all the other things that go along with it.’’

The players do appreciate perks such as riding around on buses adorned with splashy NIU player murals, plus motorcycle police escorts.

‘‘The kids love it,’’ Carey said. ‘‘[The police] have NIU stickers on their hats. And [the players] thought the buses with the pictures were the coolest thing ever.’’

To the victors go the spoils.

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