[Lead trip adviser Dain] Gotto said NIU reached out to other universities to see how they planned for similar trips. To his surprise, other universities do not organize trips as large as what NIU has planned, he said.That the trip gives the alumni association a chance to do some schmoozing and recruiting before graduation ceremony probably helps. The Chicago Tribune sent a reporter to observe the loadout.
"No other institution does something like this for their students," said Gotto, adding that other schools allow students to travel with their alumni association. "That's not what NIU is about, and I think that's what makes this university special."
On Sunday, the Convocation Center took on the air of an airport, with baggage checks, snaking lines around temporary dividers and boarding announcements. The students flooded through glass doors to check in, then waited with their luggage for their bus assignment to be called. Suitcases were crammed with clothes and snacks to sustain them on the 26-hour ride.Other photographs from load-out suggested that the university, or some generous supporter, provided beverages and bag lunches for passengers to draw. But ah, for the days of the Illinois Central Railroad and Central of Georgia providing chartered trains, a more logical way of getting 1500 people cross-country in one sleep.
Shelby Adams, 25, a graduate student from Glenview, said she loaded up on trail mix and Cheez-Its and had stayed up late the previous night so she could spend plenty of the trip sleeping. She didn't buy her package at the same time as her friends, so she would be rooming with strangers, an arrangement she shrugged off. She and fellow NIU students were all there for the same reason, she said.
There are citizens of Huskie Nation in Florida, including one familiar name who will be serving the public on game day.
Justin McCareins, an NIU wide receiver from 1997-2000 who spent eight years in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans and New York Jets, didn’t have to drive too far to get to the reception, although he won’t be able to attend the game.Former coach Jerry Kill, whose Minnesota team suffered some rough handling at the hands of Texas Tech, came over for the festivities.
McCareins is a police officer in the Fort Lauderdale area. For at least this week, McCareins isn’t the only Huskies fan in south Florida.
“It’s crazy. I work with a lot of Florida State guys. It’s just been great,” said McCareins, who has an auditorium in the Yordon Center named after him. “To see the university get the attention and the recognition they’ve been getting, It’s been a long time coming. It’s been really good.”
He’ll attend the Orange Bowl on Tuesday, and it will be a different experience, considering he never gets to attend games as a fan.Looks like good weather for the spectators in Miami. Promises to be a typical winter day here, but lots of football on offer.
“Not since I’ve been coaching. It’s been 30 years,” he said. “I always used to tell the kids I’d look forward to tailgating and watching somebody else worry. So, I’ll still tailgate, but I’ll worry too because I want the Huskies to win.”