Luckily for the hotel, these invaders, all clad in red and black, were friendly and just happy to be anywhere but a bus after nearly 30 hours on the road. The students quickly spilled into the soaring atrium of the hotel.
In moments, the scene inside went from serene to party time, with occasional whoops and shouts of “Go Huskies!”
The scene was repeated at six other hotels around the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area as 26 bus loads of NIU students made the trek to Florida to watch their beloved Huskies make history by being the first Mid-American Conference team to play in the Orange Bowl – or any BCS bowl game, for that matter.
All agreed that they were happy to have traded in sub-freezing temperatures in DeKalb for palm trees, sand and surf in south Florida.
“It was a little uncomfortable, but the people made it worth it,” said a slightly stiff, but otherwise none-the-worse for wear Johnny Nguyen, a sophomore majoring in management. “It will really be worth it after we win tomorrow!”
Students said that they passed the time by watching movies, reading books and getting lots of sleep, so that they would not waste a minute of their time in Florida. Brandon Scorball, a senior from Chicago who is majoring in physical education, tracked the trip on his phone via Google Maps, a decision that he came to regret. “I think it made it feel even longer than it was,” he said with a smile.
Juliana Leperich, a sophomore majoring in media studies, made the most of the trip, chatting with old friends and making new ones. “Everyone is super-stoked. It was really an exciting experience. All along the way people in towns honked and waved and were just excited for us.”
No matter how they passed the time, the students were great, said Mike Dreyer, a chef from NIU Housing and Dining who signed on to chaperone a bus.
“They were a great group of kids, I can’t say enough good things about them,” said Dreyer, adding that he was amazed at how quiet most of the trip was.
As the line crept forward to the front desk everyone discussed their plans for the night ahead, including Aubry Triptow, of Chicago, who graduated in December with a degree in health education. She spoke for nearly all of her (of-age) traveling companions as she outlined her game plan. “I want a cocktail and a shower. In that order. It IS New Year’s Eve, after all.”