With the Huskie Marching Band packed on to the dance floor, Kappler, a graduate assistant who helps manage the band, took to the stage at the NIU Alumni Association’s New Year’s Eve party, microphone in hand. He called Knigge up to the stage to join him, dropped to one knee and proposed.
She accepted and the room erupted.
“I had thought about proposing at Christmas, and then I realized we would be in Miami for New Year’s Eve, and that I would have an entire marching band at my disposal,” said Kappler, who was amazingly calm in the moment. Not so for Knigge, a 2008 NIU graduate, who said she was caught by surprise and shaking like a leaf as he placed the ring on her finger.
It was a high point in an evening filled with them, as nearly more than 1,500 of the Huskie faithful descended upon Jungle Island, a zoo in Biscayne Bay to ring in the New Year and talk Huskie football. It was the largest event of the bowl weekend up that point, and with so many NIU fans in one place, the excitement ratcheted up to new levels.
The night began with cocktails on the grounds of the zoo.
Guests strolled along paths getting the chance to pet monkeys and tried to catch a glimpse of the big cats and other wild animals lurking in the dark corner of their enclosures.
At various points along the way, members of the Huskie Marching Band, the Silverettes and NIU cheerleaders entertained, playing songs and performing routines, the cardinal and black of their uniforms competing for attention with the brilliant plumage of parrots and other exotic birds.
The party eventually moved indoors to the Treetop Ballroom, where Huskie fans were treated to paella, carving stations of roast beef and pork, fajitas and all manner of other delights that fueled the party into the night and on into the next morning.
Just before midnight, Mike Malone, president of the NIU Foundation, took advantage of the fact that everyone in the room was holding full champagne glasses. Malone raised a toast to Ken and Ellen Chessick, who earlier in the evening handed over a $1 million check to complete their leadership gift for the construction of the Kenneth and Ellen Chessick Practice Center.
Work on the facility has begun, ensuring that the Huskies will have more comfortable surroundings in which to prepare for future bowl games.
In the excitement over the gift, the crowd nearly missed its chance to count down to the New Year, getting to the task mere seconds before the calendar turned over to 2013. The cheers and clinking of glasses were quickly drowned out by the sound of a fireworks extravaganza over Biscayne Bay, which lit up the Miami skyline for nearly 15 minutes.
As the last of the fireworks faded away, the party resumed, but all thoughts turned to Tuesday night and Huskie’s historic matchup against Florida State in the Discover Orange Bowl.
“Come on out tomorrow and root the Huskies on to their first victory of 2013!” NIU President John Peters told the crowd. Based upon the roar of approval, there was no question that everyone in the room already had their tickets and was ready for game time.