Created: Saturday, December 29, 2012 12:30 a.m. CDT

ORANGE BOWL TAB: Last trip to Miami wasn't pretty for NIU


Buy Daily Chronicle NIU photos →

Bill Baker remembers walking up to the old Miami Orange Bowl and thinking he was seeing a piece of history.

Northern Illinois made the trip to south Florida to take on the University of Miami in October of 1986, and Baker, the voice of the Huskies since 1980, still remembers walking up to the stadium he had seen so many times on TV.

"This is college football. Growing up as a kid, the Orange Bowl was always the last game of the day on New Year’s Day," Baker said. "It had all the glitz and the glamor and halftime entertainment."

However, it was a different story when Baker actually stepped foot inside the famous football facility. When he was heading up to the press box, Baker was told by a security guard to go a certain way so he could avoid "critters."

“You got close to it, you got into it, it was a different story," he said. "... By today’s standards, it left a lot to be desired.”

The Orange Bowl held its last Orange Bowl game in 1999, and the facility no longer stands. On the site in Miami's Little Havanna neighborhood now sits the new Marlins Park. 

Twenty-six years after playing in south Florida, the Huskies are on their way back, and the team will compete against Florida State in the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on Tuesday .

It's a stark contrast from 1986, when Jerry Pettibone was just getting under his feet, coaching a team that ended up going 2-9. Included on the slate was the Huskies' 34-0 loss at Miami.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes were the premier program of the 1980s. Miami won national titles in 1983, 1987 and 1989 while adding another in 1991. The Hurricanes' 1986 squad featured future NFL players like Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde, receiver Michael Irvin, safety Bennie Blades and running backs Melvin Bratton and Alonzo Highsmith. A whopping 34 players on the 1986 Miami team went on to get drafted by NFL teams.

Miami started 11-0 in 1986 before losing to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Hurricanes finished No. 2 in the country.

"They had a great football team," Pettibone said. "They had everything."

Things didn't go well for the Huskies at the Orange Bowl that day. However, considering how talented "The U" was that season, Pettibone, who coached with former Hurricanes coach Jimmy Johnson for two seasons at Oklahoma, certainly wasn't embarrassed.

"I thought our players really went out and really represented themselves well," he said.

Pettibone also said the 'Canes showed a lot of class, something the Miami teams of that era weren't exactly known for. Pettibone's friend Johnson called off his dogs when Miami got a big lead, and Pettibone said he didn't see or hear any trash talking.

"I know Jimmy really, really well," Pettibone said. "In the third quarte, when it was like 31-0, he started substituting. He was very good to me. He could have kept his players in longer and run up the score on us, but he didn't. I really appreciated that."

Mike Korcek was in his third season as NIU's head sports in formation director in 1986. Before the game, he was on the field at the 50-yard line waiting for Pettibone to give him the lineup changes. 

Korcek remembers how there was a gentle wind, and how Jimmy Johnson's hair didn't budge.

"His hair never moved an inch, Jimmy Johnson's hair. Of course, I think he probably leads the country in hair spray," Korcek said. "Jerry Pettibone and I laugh about that."

One thing both Baker and Korcek mentioned was how there was talk at the time of Miami coming up north for a return game at Soldier Field, something that never came to fruition.

NIU hasn't played Miami since the 1986 season, but will get its chance at one of the other Florida powers on New Year's Day, where the Huskies hope the outcome will be different than their last trip to south Florida.

Will NIU football win the MAC this season?