Relevant observations, pertinent notes, questions, minutiae, and Huskie Trivial Pursuit from your local, retired sports information director:
Observation No. 1: Remarkable, but true. This never-ending “does Northern Illinois belong in the Orange Bowl?” debate somehow continues. So far this week the Champaign News-Gazette columnist Loren Tate and ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy jumped on the Kirk Herbstreit "rip NIU" pile.
Who’s next? Dr. Phil? Alfred E. Neuman? Honey Boo Boo? The Playboy Adviser? People, the Huskies are down in south Florida practicing for the game. Get over it. Better yet, report it. Properly. Objectively. It's one of the top local stories of 2012.
Tate expressed concern over NIU’s Orange Bowl finances despite public support from Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher to use the league’s new BCS revenue and help defray the cost of the school’s commitment for its 17,500 ticket allotment.
Believe me, both Northern Illinois and the MAC comprehend not only the intrinsic value of the unprecedented national exposure, but the carryover experience for the student-athletes, current students, and alumni. Is the 2011 Fiesta Bowl example where UConn infamously blew $3 million on unsold tickets on their minds in budget decisions? I’m sure.
Loren, what did you want Jeff Compher to do on Bowl Selection Sunday? Hang up on the Orange Bowl committee? Invite the 2-10 Illini (hah)? Tate’s latest column comments on the sub-par Huskie Stadium attendance for a 12-1 team with back-to-back MAC championships on its resume. Yes, that is a concern.
Did Tate mention that 2012 Illinois football played before 75 percent of Memorial Stadium’s 60,670-seat capacity after a recent $116 million renovation? Of course not. What a U of I homer.
Then there's some continued cheap shots at the NIU men's basketball program which are not really relevant to the Orange Bowl or Huskie football. Isn't there enough negative stuff in Champaign to write about, Loren?
Question No. 1: Where is the true background reporting on the decade-long resurrection of Northern Illinois football (seven bowl appearances in ten years, etc.)? NIU’s APR and football graduation rate disproved Tate’s moronic “marginal student-athlete” comment earlier this fall.
Start with former head coach Joe Novak’s metaphorical program teardown and Huskie rebuilding project, some visionary recruitment (how did the U of I “miss” on Ryan Diem, Justin McCareins, Michael Turner, Larry English, Garrett Wolfe, Chandler Harnish, Jordan Lynch, etc.?), the perfect fit coaching hires, new and expanded facilities, and overachieving, middle-class, hard-working student-athletes.
But who wants to report that sustained success? Just because the Huskies don't have that cachet image? Who says?
Observation No. 2: On Christmas day, Van Gundy followed the Herbstreit company line (glad ESPN is still promoting their Orange Bowl telecast).
“How flawed is that BCS system that Northern Illinois is in that bowl? Oklahoma – you’re telling me they’re not better? If you put Northern Illinois in the Big 12...Louisville is in (the Sugar Bowl)...come on, that’s ridiculous,” Van Gundy said. “I’m happy for Northern Illinois. They’ve had a great year. I’m just saying, if you want the best teams, you’ve got to give the league they play in...you put Northern Illinois in the SEC, you think they’re coming out unscathed?”
Question No. 2: To ESPN staff (or viewers), this is new? Or news?
Response No. 1: Editor Matt Yoder of the “Awful Announcing” blog site offered the best reply to Van Gundy’s rant. “Again, why (is it) so horrifying that a MAC school be given a crumb from the corrupt BCS pie is something I will never understand when Cinderellas are adored everywhere else in sports.” Amen.
Response No. 2: Remember, in the day (early 1980s), the starting basketball backcourt for SUNY-Brockport included Van Gundy and former Northern Illinois assistant and interim head coach Andy Greer (now an assistant with the Chicago Bulls). Van Gundy knows where DeKalb is.
Observation No. 3: For all the branding “experts” out there, notice that 99.9 percent of the references in this continued BCS bowl debate refer to “Northern Illinois” not “NIU” or “Huskies.” Say what you want about ESPN, but Herbstreit, Van Gundy, Jesse Palmer, David Pollack, and even Trevor (Matich) Claus all realize that no one outside of DeKalb County knows what NIU stands for, sorry to say. Do I like the "N. Illinois" in the ESPN Orange Bowl promos? No.
Confession No. 1: So, Mike, what do you think of the Huskies’ new spiffy Adidas Orange Bowl uniforms with white tops, silver numbers, and red pants? Fascinating (as Mr. Spock would raise that Vulcan eyebrow). Trendy? Well, I’m an old-school traditionalist. I could care less what Oregon or Notre Dame wears for TV.
However, NIU’s new threads can’t be worse than the 1951-era all yellow (with red numbers) football uniforms procured by then football coach / athletics director George “Chick” Evans. “I think ‘Chick” may have found them at a fire sale – at discount prices,” chuckled Little All-America QB Bob Heimderdinger.
“One year, we took the train to Macomb to play Western (lllinois),” Heimerdinger said. “Well, somehow the equipment man forgot the trunks with all our helmets. So we borrowed some helmets from Macomb High School. We had purple helmets, red jerseys with wide white stripes on the sleeves, and yellow pants. We looked like Easter eggs.”
Unabashed Plug No. 1: Fans, looking for that special Northern Illinois Orange Bowl souvenir (besides the 16-page preview tab produced by the DeKalb Daily Chronicle in Saturday's paper, of course)? First, run to the nearest newsstand (good luck finding such an animal) for (1) the Sports Illustrated “BCS Bowl Preview” ($7.99) and (2) the USA Today Sports “Special Edition Bowl Preview ($4.95) – both featuring Huskie quarterback Jordan Lynch on their respective covers.
The 80-page, perfect-bound SI book looks slicker and devotes six pages to the Orange Bowl with interior shots of NIU’s Tommylee Lewis and Lynch (from the winter wonderland game in Ypsilanti), plus picks Florida State, 35-24. Lynch and FSU quarterback EJ Manuel share the cover of the 48-page USA Today newsprint tabloid which predicts a 20-13 Seminole triumph in its two-page Orange Bowl spread.
For Huskie fans in South Beach, word is that the Jan. 1 edition of the Miami Herald will be “a collector’s item” (hopefully, so is the Jan. 2 edition of every newspaper in America). You also might want to go online for information on the official 2013 Discover Orange Bowl DVD ($24.99) for a Northern Illinois video keepsake.
Observation No. 4: Note to the publishers of the preseason college football magazines (Athlon, Lindy’s, Phil Steele, et al.) who might regionalize their covers next summer. No more token Illinois or Northwestern covers, no Nathan Schellhase, no Kain Colter, please. After finishing seventh in the Heisman Trophy balloting and leading the best program in the state to the Orange Bowl, Lynch and the Huskies deserve the major-league "props."
Observation No. 5: For those worried that the Orange Bowl could be a blowout (due to a mid-major participant), please check out the game's last two final scores: 40-12 in 2011 and 70-33 in 2012. See that, Kirk? Loren? Jeff?