Created:Wednesday, August 28, 2013 12:06 a.m.CDT
Updated:Wednesday, August 28, 2013 1:03 a.m.CDT

An oral history of 2003 NIU - Maryland: Part 2

Wide receiver Keith Perry (1) hugs fellow wide receiver Dan Sheldon (5) during NIU's 20-13 overtime win over Maryland. Sheldon scored the eventual game-winning touchdown in overtime to beat the Terrapins. (Photo provided by NIU athletics)


NIU would go on to beat Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium Sept. 20, and top Iowa State the following week. NIU started 7-0 before losing at Bowling Green, with ESPN's College Gameday in attendance, on Oct. 25.

DUFFY: You beat Maryland, you beat Alabama and then you beat Iowa State and then people are like, well shoot, Northern Illinois is serious, right? That's the year where people say, this isn't just another win on our schedule. This is a team that's going to compete.

SHELDON: It was really uplifting, we just upset a big team at home. Sellout crowd, the buzz about Northern Illinois football was really exciting for us because a lot of us came to Northern when they were overcoming the many years of losing. My freshman year at Northern, I remember games, it's not very packed, there wasn't a lot of interest in Northern Illinois football. And that game, after the season we had the year before, it was sold out. It was kind of incredible to show up for a game and see it sold out.

NOVAK: Our kids were starting to gain confidence, but they hadn't had a big win yet. And certainly that game with their ranking, gave our kids all kinds of confidence. They felt they could play with anybody and beat anybody on any given day.

GROTH: We just knew that it was going to be a special season. Joe wasn’t extremely happy that we added Alabama late in the schedule, but it paid off. Exposure was great and well-deserved.

KORCEK: I told Joe and the kids, if [media attention] ever gets too much, we'll stop. We'll put a stop to it, or we'll govern it. But we were hungry for the exposure. Joe [said] 'Mike we're hot, let's go for it.' Joe's not stupid. The more interviews he does, the more newspapers, the more TV, more radio, it's free advertising. It's great recruiting.

NIU finished the 2003 season at 10-2, suffering its second loss to Toledo on Nov. 15. The Huskies fought through injuries at the end of the season, and Sheldon and Duffy were two players who missed significant time. There were only 28 bowl games in 2003, and the MAC had just two tie-ins. NIU, despite its best season in years, was left without a bowl game.

DREW: We had lost like four or five starters by the time we lost. We lost the captain of our defense, which is Nick. I personally, I've known Nick since 2000, we came in together. He was the soul and the heart of our defense.

SHELDON: I wanted nothing more than to go to a MAC Championship and a bowl game, because that would've meant that I could have came back late enough [to play]. I was really hoping that we had [extra games] at the end of the year because I didn't want to see my season end.

GROTH: We couldn't buy our way into (bowl) games. We offered money to play into those games, to buy extra tickets to play into those games. That is an indicator of what's wrong with the college football and the BCS system right there.

The Huskies received a bowl bid in 2004 and NIU has been to a bowl in six of the past seven seasons. The facilities at Huskie Stadium have also been upgraded the past few years. In 2007, the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center opened, with the Kenneth and Ellen Chessick Practice Center scheduled to open this October.

NOVAK: Jeff was with us at Alabama, and he sat next to us on the bus going to the stadium, he was on the sideline next to me at times. It really got Jeff Yordon involved. Kenny Chessick was around, but he hadn't really gotten that far committed yet. But I think it really swayed Yordon over the hump and he really got on board.

DUFFY: I know that we kind of, as a team, as a group, as a university, that 2003 really set the tone for, I think, a lot of what's happened now.

CANADA: What coach Novak did and building the program the way he did, the program has stood the test of time.The program's built on hard work, the program's built on tough guys that do love football. I've said it multiple times, the greatest part about coming back to Northern when I came back two years ago, the new facility was awesome.

GROTH: Now, whether Joe Novak and Cary Groth would have survived if that was now, with all the social media pressure and everything that’s going on, [having the 23-game losing streak] at one point in his career? Probably we wouldn’t have. But we were able to do it back then because we believed in it. In my opinion it was one of the best hires ever, that I’ve been involved with.”

DREW: [2003] means a lot to me. I won't ever, ever let go. We can always have that to reference to the younger guys, and all the stuff that's going on at NIU now, I haven't been back since 2004 or 2005. I can't wait to get back down there and see the facilities, because I know some of that piggyback's off what we've done, and they've just taken it and ran with it. I'm very proud to watch those guys play on Saturday.

To go back to Part 1, click here

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