Like the rest of Huskie nation, Connie and Lavarre Uhlken watched from the edge of their seats Nov. 30 as Northern Illinois University squeaked out a double-overtime win over Kent State to claim the MAC Championship, and ultimately a berth to the Orange Bowl.
“The whole game, they kept talking about the remote chance that we could go to the Orange Bowl, and we said if that happens, we just HAVE to go,” said Connie, who coordinates the university’s highly regarded nursing program.
Good to their word, one month later, the Sycamore couple, who have had Huskie season tickets since 2001, found themselves standing in the lobby of the Hyatt in downtown Miami. Within moments of arriving, their arms were loaded with towels (emblazoned with Huskie and Orange Bowl logos), event passes were draped around their necks and smiles spread across their faces.
“We’ve never traveled with the team before, and this sure beats a trip to Detroit,” Connie said.
The couple were part of a busload of Huskie fans checking into the hotel Sunday afternoon. The group included students, alumni, university employees and all manner of NIU supporters ready for the biggest football game in university history.
While the group was diverse, they all had two things in common: They were ready to get the Orange Bowl festivities under way, and they were confident that the Huskies were ready to shock the sporting world with a victory New Year’s Day.
“This is our chance to show the world that our program can compete on any level,” said NIU Trustee Wheeler Coleman, who brought his entire family to share in the excitement. “But we’re not here just to compete, we are here to win!”
Coleman, like many others, talked about the historic nature of the event.
“This is a turning point for us, something that will take us to the next level,” he said. “The ramifications of playing in the national spotlight are huge. It will help us attract students and top flight faculty. It will have a major impact on the entire university.”
Student Trustee Elliot Echols was as thrilled as anyone to be in Miami, but he said he would have followed the Huskies to any bowl game.
“Wherever the Huskies go, I’ll be there, and I wasn’t going to miss this. The Huskies aren’t just playing for themselves, or for the university; they’re representing all of the other teams out there historically defined as underdogs.”
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.