Call it the Orange Bowl Express: a 24-hour drive, 26 buses, 52 trip advisers, 78 drivers, 1,300 Northern Illinois University students, 1,400 box lunches, 1,430 miles and 12,480 bottles of water.
Caravans of buses packed with students and supplies left the NIU Convocation Center in four waves Sunday afternoon, headed to South Florida, where Huskie fans will cheer on their team in the Discover Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Students will arrive Monday at their destinations, one of seven South Florida hotels.
How does it feel to be headed to the big game?
“I’m unbelievably excited,” said Brian Fitzgerald, a sophomore marketing major from Naperville.
Over the past two years, Fitzgerald attended every Huskie home game. He also took university bus trips to Detroit to watch the team capture two Mid-American Conference Championships. He couldn’t pass up a trip to the Sunshine State.
NIU senior Brenda Ceballos of Elgin jumped at the opportunity to take the Orange Bowl Student Fan Bus.
“I thought the package deal was really affordable, and it is an awesome, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Ceballos said. “I want to support the Huskies, and hopefully they’ll win.”
For many NIU students, traveling to the Miami area to watch the Huskies make history was more of a longshot than, well, the Huskies clinching a BCS bid. The cost for a flight and accommodations could easily reach into thousands of dollars – no small amount for college students.
In an effort to make sure Orange Bowl fans see Huskie red, the university offered travel packages for $150 each. That includes the bus transportation, hotel accommodations and a game ticket.
The initial 500 seats sold out in nine minutes.
Joseph Matty, executive director of the NIU Alumni Association, said alumni really stepped up, contributing more than $35,000 to reduce the costs of travel packages.
“Even though they didn’t have the opportunity to go to the Orange Bowl when they were in school, our alumni wanted to help as many current students as possible,” Matty said. “Regardless of whether you’re a student or alum, it’s one NIU Huskie family.”
Students are thankful for the efforts by alumni, said Pettee Guerrero, a senior industrial management technology major from Chicago. Decked out Sunday morning in full Huskie regalia, Guerrero cradled a nifty accessory – a stuffed Huskie dog that sported a miniature football helmet.
“I am going on this trip because I want to see our Huskies win the Orange Bowl,” she said. “And we are very grateful to the Alumni Association and all donors that made it possible for us to go.”
John Nazorek, a freshman from Oak Lawn, arrived to catch the fan bus wearing a red Huskie hoodie and oversized Huskie hat. He is among the Huskie faithful who believe NIU can bring home a victory.
“I went to church yesterday,” Nazorek said. “I wore my favorite NIU sweatshirt and did a little praying for us.”