Faces in the crowd: Huskie fans hit Miami

Photo of a sign welcoming NIU Huskie fans to Miami.Hundreds of Huskie football fans are pouring into Miami this week to watch their team play in the Discover Orange Bowl. These are some of their stories.

Huskie Evangelist

David LaCerra knows what it’s like to part of a bowl team. He was a safety on the 1983 Huskie squad that went to the California Bowl. That was great, he says, but this year’s trip to the Orange Bowl is even better.

Since arriving in Miami Sunday, he and his wife, Sherry, have been caught up in a whirlwind that included a reception for former Huskie players where LaCerra touched base with more than 20 of his fellow California Bowl teammates.

The group, he says, has remained very close over the years, and all wear the cardinal and black proudly.

“Being part of the Huskie family is like belonging to a country club – without the golf course,” says LaCerra, a 1986 graduate in computer science, who calls himself a Huskie evangelist, converting fans to the Huskie cause whenever he can.

One of those converts is his wife, Sherry. She didn’t attend NIU, but, Dave jokes that becoming a Huskie fan was part of her marriage vows.

“NIU is a great school. I kind of adopted them and they kind of adopted me,” she says. “Seeing the closeness between Dave and his teammates and friends from college, it’s really impressive. They cannot see each other for five years and they just pick up where they left off.”

The LaCerras (left) and the Cohens enjoy a Monday morning in Miami.
The LaCerras (left) and the Cohens enjoy a Monday morning in Miami.

One of those friends, and fraternity brother, Joe Cohen, of Wauconda, was also in Miami for the trip, along with his wife Heidi. Joe and Dave have Huskie season tickets together and are a fixture at every home game – in the stands and in the tailgating area, soaking up all the Huskie atmosphere they can get.

That the Huskies are playing in the Orange Bowl is nothing short of amazing, says Cohen, who graduated with a science education degree in 1988.

“I’ve always watched the big bowl games on New Year’s Day, and now I’m going to be in the stands watching the Huskies play in the Orange Bowl. It’s amazing! I have so many friends who went to big schools, like Illinois, and they aren’t at ANY bowl game. It’s a real point of pride – we’re the best college football team in the state of Illinois!”

Monday morning, the two couples sat in the lobby of the Embassy Suites in Ft. Lauderdale, making a plan for the next two days.

Monday, they said, will be spent looking for a beach front watering hole where they will no doubt find some fellow Huskie fans. The NIU Alumni Association New Year’s Eve party is on the slate to ring in 2013, and they will be first in line to get into the tailgate area at 1 p.m. Tuesday, ready to revel with fellow Huskies and witness history.

The Grand Prize

Debbie Fetting
Debbie Fetting

You would be hard pressed to find any Huskie fan in South Beach who isn’t smiling. Few, however, look as happy as Debbie Fetting.

Not only is she on hand for the biggest game in Huskie history, but she is here courtesy of the Brian Bemis Auto Group in Sycamore where she won a drawing for an all-expenses paid spot on one of the Huskie charters.

“You never think you’re going to win anything like this, and it is just amazing,” she said Sunday as she checked in at the Hyatt in downtown Miami. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wanted to go so badly, but didn’t think I could afford it, so this is awesome.”

Fetting, of Hampshire, has worked in the Health Services pharmacy at NIU for 34 years. She is accompanied on the trip by her friend, Lynne Packer, of Palos Heights, and will be meeting up with her daughter, Jodi West, a senior in kinesiology at NIU who is friends with several of the players.

“I just hope we show Florida State – and the whole country – what NIU is all about: determination and grit,” Fetting said.

Forget the Wildcats; give him the Huskies!

Jeff Mina knows more about Chicago area universities than most people. He earned his undergraduate degree in art history from Northwestern, his master’s from NIU and an accounting degree from DePaul. He also works at the University of Illinois Chicago.

While that is quite a collection of college affiliations, there is no question which school has hold of his heart.

“I tell everyone that I got a much better education at NIU than I did at Northwestern,” Mina says with pride. “Northwestern was cold and impersonal. At NIU, I was practically on a first name basis with my teachers. If I had the chance to go back and do it all over again, I would go to NIU for my undergraduate degree too. I can’t say enough good things about NIU.”

Nor can his wife, Sheila, who earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in speech pathology at NIU, where she met Jeff. “I made some good friends at NIU and have a lot of happy memories of my time there. And I got a good education. When I graduated I was prepared for what awaited me.”

The couple, both of whom earned their master’s degrees in 1977, have had season tickets to NIU football since the early 1990s and this year added men’s and women’s basketball tickets.  They have traveled to three previous bowl games, but this is the best.

“This is the BIG stage,” Jeff says. “We are going to have friends and family all over the country watching this!”

Go Hooshkies!

NIU Huskie fans Mindy (left) and Brianna Kramer meet quarterback Jordan Lynch.
NIU Huskie fans Mindy (left) and Brianna Kramer meet quarterback Jordan Lynch.

Mindy and Brianna Kramer had their favorite Orange Bowl souvenir locked up by Sunday afternoon. It’s a shot of the two sisters, ages 10 and 12 respectively, in the lobby of the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach, standing on either side of none other than Huskie quarterback Jordan Lynch.

The two were in Miami with their parents, Mark, a 1990 accountancy graduate, and their mother Stacey, an alum of Indiana University. The family was on a sports-themed holiday, having hit an IU basketball game just before heading to Florida.

“We were Hoosier fans when we were in Indiana. Now we’re Huskie fans. For a few hours in the middle we went through a transition where we were Hooshkies,” Stacey says.

For Mark, there is no split allegiance. He has remained tightly connected to NIU since his graduation. He serves on the Department of Accountancy Executive Advisory Board and was the College of Business Outstanding Alumnus in 1999.

Much of his success, he says, can be traced to the education he got at NIU.

“I still remember studying for the CPA exam in the library, and Dr. Delaney and Dr. Baker would be walking around looking for accountancy students to see if we had any questions. They were amazing,” he said.

These days, Mark would just as soon discuss football as spreadsheets at the office.

“Being from a mid-major football school, I’ve always had to listen to my colleagues from bigger schools talk about their football teams. I’ve never been able to talk football … until now. This is HUGE!”

For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.

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