NIU alumni celebrate Orange Bowl bid at holiday party


NIU alumni celebrate Orange Bowl bid at holiday party

By Jack McCarthy

Festive white lights twinkled on a 25-foot Christmas tree rising towards the arches of the University Club's Cathedral Room as Northern Illinois University alumni gathered for a holiday party on Thursday.

But forget about the traditional Christmas hues and highlights.

Orange -- as in Orange Bowl -- was the color to celebrate as several hundred alums saluted the NIU football team's historic berth in a major college bowl game.

"I got a little emotional about it when I found out," admitted athletic director Jeff Compher as the party got under way. "This is a seminal moment in the history of our university. It's one of those defining moments that validates everything we've been doing and how we've been doing it."

The Huskies (12-1) vaulted into Bowl Championship Series contention following last Friday's Mid-American Conference double overtime title victory over Kent State.

The reward was a No. 15 spot in the final BCS rankings announced last Sunday and an unprecedented Orange Bowl berth -- the first major bowl appearance by any MAC team.

Northern Illinois, also ranked in the top 15 in two major national polls, will face No. 12 Florida State in prime time (7 p.m. Central) on New Year's Day.

The Huskies inclusion generated plenty of controversy. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit called it a joke and college football message boards have been awash with criticism of the Huskies selection, strength of schedule, mid-major status and a broken BCS system.

"So what?" says NIU alums like Dave Heide, who played under coach Bill Mallory on the 1983 California Bowl championship team.

"The thing that kind of befuddles me a little is that you look at college basketball and everybody roots for VCU, they root for Butler, they root for Gonzaga," he said. "Why not in college football? I think Herbstreit's (negative) comments were very strong that I think the country has rallied around Northern.

"I couldn't be more proud of this program, they do everything the right way."

Besides, Northern Illinois legitimately qualified under current BCS rules. And under a new system set to debut in 2014, the Huskies would also be in the field.

The past decade has seen the most successful seasons since Northern Illinois was a NCAA College Division power in the 1960s, winning a national championship in 1963 behind College Football Hall of Fame quarterback George Bork.

In 2002, the Huskies were emerging as a Mid-American power under coach Joe Novak and finished 8-4 with a MAC West championship. Two years later, Northern Illinois made its first bowl appearance since 1983 with a 34-21 victory over Troy in the Silicon Valley Classic.

Novak guided NIU to the Poinsettia Bowl in 2006, then stepped down after the Huskies slipped to 2-10 in 2007.

The three-year Jerry Kill era began the next year with the revived team finishing 6-6 and reaching the 2008 Independence Bowl, the first of five straight postseason appearances.

Northern dropped a 27-3 decision to South Florida in the 2009 International Bowl and beat Fresno State 40-17 in the 2010 Humanitarian Bowl. The next year, under former Wisconsin assistant Dave Doeren, NIU went 11-3, won a MAC championship and beat Arkansas State in the 2012 Bowl.

Doeren guided the Huskies to a 12-1 record and another MAC title this season before resigning to take the top job at North Carolina State.

Now its up to new head coach Rod Carey -- still adjusting to his quick promotion -- to continue Northerns winning ways.

A week ago I was buried in film figuring out to block Kent State's tackles, said the 42-year-old Carey, who spent the last two seasons helping guide two of the most explosive offenses in program history. "I don't have a sense of this yet, but it's fun."

NIU alumni, meanwhile, see good things to come out of the Orange Bowl experience.

"When you go to a university like NIU, it's a great institution," said Joseph Matty, NIU associate vice president for university advancement and CEO and executive director of the school's alumni association. "Our athletic program is allowing the rest of the country to see how great it is."

What life was like the last time the Cubs hosted a World Series game at Wrigley Field

What life was like the last time the Cubs hosted a World Series game at Wrigley Field

25,950 days ago.

That's how long it's been since Wrigley Field last saw a World Series game played in front of the ivy.

Sure, 71 years is a long time, but when you break it down by days, it seems even more daunting.

For starters, take a glance at a snapshot of what Wrigley - and the world - looked like on the day of the last World Series game on Chicago's North side:

#FlashbackFriday: 71 years ago, the last time Wrigley Field hosted a #WorldSeries game.

A photo posted by MLB ⚾ (@mlb) on

Obviously, that was well before Wrigley got lights (1988).

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Here's some more perspective on how stunningly different life was back in 1945:

—The average cost of a new house was $4,600.

—The average salary was $2,400 per year per person.

—Gas cost 15 cents a gallon.

—New cars were just over $1,000.

—Life expectancy was 65.9 years (life expectancy in America is 79.3 years in 2016).

—Population of the U.S. was just shy of 140 million (In 2016, America's population is more than 324 million).

—Major League Baseball had only 16 teams, including zero teams west of St. Louis.

—The Giants had yet to move to San Francisco and were still in New York. The Dodgers had yet to move to Los Angeles and still made their home in Brooklyn.

—Washington had a baseball team, but they were called the Senators, not the Nationals.

—St. Louis, Boston and Philadelphia each had two baseball teams, including the St. Louis Browns, Boston Braves and Philadelphia Athletics.

—Tigers pitcher Hal Newhouser won American League MVP honors while Cubs first baseman Phil Cavarretta took home the NL MVP with only six homers, though he did hit .355 with a .949 OPS.

—The first Super Bowl was still 22 years away from being played.

Among world events, 1945 was also when Adolf Hitler died, Germany surrendered in World War II and the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan.

America was also getting used to Harry S. Truman as president after Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office in April 1945.

Of course, if we go as far back as the last time the Cubs won the World Series, life would be quite a bit different even in the 37 years between 1908 and 1945.

Watch: Dwyane Wade's boyish exuberance comes out after his first win with hometown Bulls

Watch: Dwyane Wade's boyish exuberance comes out after his first win with hometown Bulls

NBA superstar Dwyane Wade showed just how happy he was to capture his first regular season win for this hometown Bulls as he walked to the locker room on Thursday night.

Wade was unable to contain his excitement as he left the court, blurting out the following.

"Thats the way to do it. That's a homecoming right there. I like that one."

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Wade finished his Bulls debut with 22 points, including hitting four three-pointers, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out five assists.

All capped off by a postgame hug with mom too.

Now that's one heck of a homecoming right there.