Orange Bowl trip a family affair

Grandfather and grandson cheer on Huskies in Miami

Greg and Kevin Smith

Greg and Kevin Smith

As soon as Northern Illinois University received its bid to the Discover Orange Bowl, NIU students Greg and Kevin Smith began making plans to ensure that they would be in Florida for the game on New Year’s Day.

That made them no different from several thousand other NIU students who attended the game.

What did set them apart is that Greg is a 69-year-old graduate student studying history, while Kevin is a freshman business major studying accounting who calls Greg “Grandpa.”

The duo showed up Dec. 30 at the NIU Convocation Center, joining more than 1,300 other NIU students for the 28-hour bus ride to Florida. While Kevin was surrounded by peers, Greg’s age made him stand out a bit, but it didn’t seem to matter. Greg posted a video of their experience on YouTube.

“I got a lot of kidding from my family about being on a bus with a bunch of college kids treating it like spring break, but I have always felt like I fit in pretty well,” says Greg, a Vietnam veteran from Wheaton who chose NIU for graduate school because he liked the program and the faculty.

The bus ride, while long, proved to be no problem, nor did any of his roommates for the trip mind sharing their room with someone who offered a new meaning to “super senior.”

“My friends didn’t care,” says Kevin, of Steward, Ill. “They said they were fine with it, as long as he didn’t try to put a curfew on us or anything.”

That was not a problem, as Greg left most of the partying to the college kids on New Year’s Eve.

The next day, however, he and Kevin were up early and went for a run across the Venetian Causeway, which connects downtown Miami to posh Miami Beach.

After breakfast, the duo discovered that they could rent bikes for $4 an hour and spent the day pedaling through some of the most exclusive real estate in America, splashing in the ocean (a first for Kevin) and checking out the football team’s accommodations at the Fontainebleau. It was a much more affordable option than the $1,000 per hour Lamborghini available for rent.

Victor E. Huskie jumps into the stands at Sun Life Stadium.

Victor E. Huskie jumps into the stands at Sun Life Stadium.

“The time we spent checking out South Beach was one of the best parts of the trip,” Kevin says. “If it hadn’t have been for him, I probably would have just slept in and spent the day hanging around the hotel like my friends. So I was glad he was there and we spent that day together.”

The feeling was mutual. “I appreciate him spending time with an old guy like me, but we have always enjoyed hanging out and traveling together,” Greg says.

At the stadium, the two went their own ways, but ended up sitting near each other. Greg couldn’t resist a little good-natured kidding, calling Kevin on his phone to point out that he was surrounded by beautiful girls in black and red, while Kevin was hanging out with friends from a fraternity. “Youth is wasted on the young,” Greg says.

The electric atmosphere in the stadium, and the spirit of Huskie fans made the game an incredible experience for both despite the loss.

“We would have liked to have won,” Greg says, “but the whole experience was just fantastic.”

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