Mike Feinstein, Don Sitarz and Joe Holoubek woke up Tuesday morning ready to see some Huskie history.
To be more precise, they were ready to see some MORE Huskie history, because since the three met during their freshman year 47 years ago, they have seen an awful lot. The group has missed only a handful of Huskie football games and has traveled to many road games – including several bowls. Sitarz has the programs from each stored away in his basement to prove it.
Through thick and thin, they watched and cheered and lived and died with the Huskies.
A lot changed over since the group met as freshmen in Grant North, the year the towers opened.
Diplomas were earned. Girlfriends became wives (Holoubek says he knew that his wife, Marge, was a keeper when she stuck with him through a dismal, rain-soaked Homecoming game in 1974). Children were born and went to college themselves. Grandchildren arrived.
Through it all, Huskie football has remained a constant.
“It’s been the bond that has kept us together. We’ve all been together through a whole life cycle, and Huskie football has kept us together,” Sitarz says.
Along the way they became unofficial historians of the program, especially Feinstein, who carried with him to Miami photos that go back decades.
Shots of the 1983 team at the California Bowl; pictures of Joe Novak – as an assistant, putting his defense through its pregame paces in the 1980s, and as a head coach, arms raised in exultation after the thrilling overtime victory over Miami. He also has a shot of the scoreboard at Alabama after that 2003 team knocked off the Crimson Tide.
As any Huskie fan knows, those 47 years included more of their share of downs than ups, but for this group, it has been about more than football.
“I truly believe that the Huskies embody everything that is right about college football,” Sitarz says.
“Our teams are full of smart, well-spoken kids. We don’t just talk about creating champions in the classroom, we do it,” chimes in Feinstein, proudly pointing to the Huskies ranking as the second-best team, academically speaking, in the BCS bowls this year, and boasting of the three Huskie Academic All-Americans on the roster.
This year’s team, and its dedication to their motto, “The hard way,” is the perfect embodiment of NIU, the group believes.
“These are good, tough kids trying to prove themselves. They are as good as players at just about any school in the country, and they have a chip on their shoulder. ”
Watching the Huskies run on to the field at the Orange Bowl will be an overwhelming moment. “We will have tears in our eyes,” Feinstein admits.
“It will all come rushing back – the days when Huskie Stadium had a grass field, when there was no East Grandstand, when the team used an old handball court as their weight room. We’ve come such a long way,” Holoubek says.
When a friend suggests that the Orange Bowl is a dream come true, Sitarz quietly disagrees. “No. WE couldn’t even have dreamed of this,” he says. “To win … to win it would … ”
His voice trails off as he contemplates one more potential piece of history.