CHICAGO – Northern Illinois football coach Dave Doeren stood at the podium in Soldier Field’s Skyline Suite and talked about seeing the jerseys of players such as Dick Butkus and Walter Payton inside the storied facility.
He mentioned that he will coach in the same stadium where Mike Ditka coached for 10 seasons, and went on about being able to get ready in the same locker room where NFL players prepare for games each fall.
“I think everyone that starts playing football when they’re a kid dreams about playing in pro stadiums as a pro athlete,” Doeren said. “Just to be here, to walk through the locker room, to put your helmet on and come down the tunnel. ... I know as a coach, walking down on that field, it’s a great feeling.”
On Sept. 1, Doeren will coach at Soldier Field for the second time when the Huskies take on Iowa at 2:30 p.m. NIU lost, 49-7, to Wisconsin in Chicago last season. The Huskies are 0-2 all-time at the venue.
Playing at the Bears’ home field is something Doeren said he would like to do every season. NIU gives recruits tours of Soldier Field during seasons when the Huskies host a contest there, showing them the field and locker rooms depending on the Bears’ schedule.
Doeren wants to at least host a game at Soldier Field every four seasons so each player gets the experience.
But after last year’s loss to the Badgers, NIU’s approach to the game will change a little, Doeren said.
There’s a “wow factor” when first arriving at Soldier Field, Doeren said. This time, NIU will hold a walkthrough on Aug. 19 at the facility where the team can see the locker room and go through certain aspects of the pregame routine.
He hopes the early walkthrough, coupled with last year’s experience, will benefit the Huskies against Iowa. This will be the second time the teams have met at Soldier Field. In the 2007 season opener, Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes beat Joe Novak’s Huskies 16-3.
“You’re always looking for a way to maybe make it easier on your guys and I think this, in our opinion will make them a little more comfortable,” Doeren said.
NIU senior defensive end Sean Progar said the Huskies had a great week of practice heading into the Wisconsin game last season. He also thought the team was awestruck by the whole Soldier Field experience.
“I think when we got here guys just were tight. I think the biggest thing is just to make sure everyone’s not tight,” Progar said. “Just realize it’s the same football game, it’s not any different just because we’re in Soldier Field. It’s not any different because we’re playing a Big Ten team.
“We’ve just got to play with confidence and just play football. Not worry about all the distractions and not play tight because that’s what [hurt] us last year.”
The players also enjoy stepping on to the NFL facility in front of thousands of fans.
“Not too many players from my area get the chance to play at Soldier Field,” said cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who hails from north suburban Waukegan. “It’s just a blessing, to have the opportunity to be on a team that has the opportunity to play here. It’s just very special.”