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Fans gather near and far for bowl game

The Northern Illinois University Huskies will compete in their fourth bowl game in four seasons, and fans are gearing up to watch this weekend’s game both locally and in Mobile, Ala.

The Mid-American Conference champions will face the Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State University Red Wolves on Sunday in the Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Several local bars and restaurants will host gatherings for fans who can’t make the 920-mile trek to Mobile.

Fatty’s Pub & Grille in DeKalb hosted parties for games all season, offering commemorative mugs labeled with this year’s football schedule.

“Any NIU game for us is pretty special,” manager Brian White said. “We’re big supporters of NIU. ... To be at a bowl game makes you feel really good to be a part of it.”

O’Leary’s Restaurant & Pub in DeKalb usually hosts a special get-together for NIU games, and owner Debbie Whitmer said Sunday’s game is no different. Prizes will be raffled at the end of each quarter, and a few drink specials are on the menu, she said.

“We’re really proud of NIU,” she said. “The university is a large part of this community. They have been supportive of DeKalb, and we like to be supportive of their successes.”

Tom Schmidt, owner of Hometown Sports Bar & Grill in DeKalb, hopes he ends up hosting a victory party. He said the game can be seen from any seat in the bar, and a halftime buffet will be available along with giveaways.

“It’s just about having fun,” he said.

The NIU Alumni Association organized nine regional watch parties across the United States, including two in Illinois. One watch party will be at Goose Island Wrigleyville in Chicago, while another will be at the Brick House Tavern + Tap in Downers Grove.

Some organizations planned events for the few hundred fans who will make the approximately 14-hour drive to Mobile.

NIU Athletics offered transportation and lodging packages to entice alumni to the game. Ben Steckler, assistant director of the NIU Alumni Association said fans often go to Twitter and Facebook to chat about the games, and events such as the bowl game bring people together to share the experience.

“We have a lot of alumni who follow the team and love being Huskies,” Steckler said. “They celebrate their time at NIU, and share their experiences and what it means to be Huskies.”

The NIU Student Association and the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management sent 150 students to Mobile to cheer on the Huskies. Jill Zambito, director of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, said the association acquired funding to allow students to stay in Alabama at a discounted price.

“It’s a chance to be a part of something greater, which is such an important part of the college experience,” she said.

Alumni will be treated to a Sunday night pre-game party and can watch an NIU Marching Band performance in Mobile.

Steckler said the alumni association offered transportation packages and other opportunities to watch the MAC Championship game in Detroit in early December. NIU beat Ohio 23-20.

He hopes NIU can achieve one more triumph.

“Whether you like athletics or not, it’s something you can take pride in about NIU,” Steckler said.

Tune in

Watch ESPN on Sunday for the 8 p.m. kickoff of the Bowl between the Northern Illinois University Huskies and the Arkansas State University Red Wolves.

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