At NIU, joy over bowl bid, anger toward analyst

Jocelyn LaBoy, a Northern Illinois University student, fills out an order form Monday at the Convocation Center in DeKalb for a ticket to the Orange Bowl.
Jocelyn LaBoy, a Northern Illinois University student, fills out an order form Monday at the Convocation Center in DeKalb for a ticket to the Orange Bowl.

DeKALB – The news of Northern Illinois’ postseason football future, announced Sunday night, didn’t take long to spread across campus.

NIU’s Jan. 1 Orange Bowl date with Florida State coupled with the opinion of ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit – who referred to the Huskies’ selection as “an absolute joke” – turned out to be enough to ignite students on social media.

“Facebook just blew up and it’s all everyone’s been talking about ,” said Joe Themig, an NIU student from Decatur. “It’s really exciting – it’s kind of surprising because I didn’t know if we could get into that kind of bowl, but the chips kind of fell the right way.

“I know ESPN was kind of dogging us, but I think we’ll show them what we’re made of.”

Students said NIU’s trip south has been a hot topic campuswide on a day when unseasonably warm temperatures brought shorts and an array of Huskies’ themed T-shirts to re-emerge from storage. The university’s offer of free tickets to any student who can make it to Miami on their own also made checking online airline and bus fares a top priority.

Themig said he has plenty of friends planning on making the trip, but at least for now, he won’t be joining them.

“Unfortunately, I’ve already got plans, so I have to see what I can do to finagle out of them,” he said.

By Monday morning, the excitement over NIU’s bowl berth had taken over Village Commons Bookstore, where employees were trying to create space for freshly printed Orange Bowl merchandise. The store is already filled with NIU shirts, hats and other Huskies’ gear – even without any clothing commemorating the program’s MAC championship or its Miami meeting with the Seminoles.

Store manager Jody Boardman said Monday morning she had already pre-ordered Orange Bowl material from two athletic clothing manufacturers last week before the Huskies knocked off then No. 17-ranked Kent State, 44-37, in double overtime Friday night in Detroit.

The victory put the Huskies’ in line for their BCS berth after NIU jumped from No. 21 to No. 15 in the standings, edging out some bigger-conference competition.

“It’s a big flipping deal,” said Linda Christensen, the business manager at Village Commons, who has worked at the store for 28 years and can’t remember anything quite like this.

Boardman said she’s currently at the mercy of manufacturers who are scrambling to get Orange Bowl merchandise printed. She hopes to have the clothing shipped overnight and expects it could be in stores as early as Tuesday.

In the meantime, Monday, Boardman was taking phone orders for BCS-themed merchandise, which will certainly bolster normal holiday sales typically dominated by out-of-town alumni purchasing NIU clothing for Christmas gifts.

As excited as students were about the Huskies’ achievement, they were equally frustrated by ESPN’s Sunday night treatment. Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback, said NIU wasn’t deserving of a BCS berth despite its 12-1 record.

One local gas station posted its disgust on its sign, with a message reading, “Suck Our Oranges, ESPN. Go Huskies.”

But the network’s opinions about NIU didn’t dampen talk around campus Monday. Kendall Penfield, a student from Ottawa, Ill., said the Huskies had been the main topic of discussion for most of Monday – even among professors who wondered how many students would take advantage of the free ticket offer.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Penfield, who attended all of the Huskies’ home games this season, but will have to settle for watching the Orange Bowl on television. “I just wish it was closer to home.”

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