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Bowl bid a quantum leap for NIU

Published: Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

Ten random thoughts to ponder as Northern Illinois prepares for the Discover Orange Bowl game:

Thought No. 1: For starters, pinch me. This isn’t a dream. This is real. From mid-major status to BCS bowl transcends the phrase “quantum leap.” From a historical perspective, and considering the relatively modest origins for such current athletic powerhouses as Michigan State and even Florida State in the 1950s, this could be the defining moment for Huskie football – and the entire institution – in the 21st century.

Thought No. 2: You wonder how the school’s modern-era patriarchs such as athletic directors George “Chick” Evans and Bob Brigham or sports information director Bud Nangle – the NIU administrators from the late 1960s who ushered the Huskies into the NCAA Division-I ranks and initiated the process for Mid-American Conference membership in the late 1960s – would’ve reacted to the Jan. 1 Florida State matchup in Miami.

Remember, when Brigham (football and wrestling) and Nangle (basketball) were student-athletes for Evans in the 1940s, this was Northern Illinois State Teachers College. The competition then was Wheaton, Illinois Wesleyan, St. Ambrose, Millikin, and the other state directional schools. Could Evans, Brigham, or Nangle have ever envisioned this?

Irony No. 1: Isn’t it interesting that the same school that turned down a bid to the 1951 Tangerine Bowl accepted one to the 2013 Orange Bowl? True story. According to published reports, NIU’s governing body, the State Teachers College Board, back then nixed the Tangerine Bowl bid because the acceptance of one would extend the football season almost seven weeks (from Nov. 17 until Jan. 1) and could “...even become a detriment to the educational program.”

Led by Little All-America quarterback Bob Heimerdinger, those 1951 Huskies finished 9-0-0, won the Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference crown, and opted to pass up invitations to the Cigar Bowl (Tampa, Fla.), Corn Bowl (Bloomington, Ill.) and the Tangerine Bowl. Doggoned academicians. How times have changed.

Question No. 1: Anybody notice how our “friends” at ESPN or the Chicago media types have ignored the fact that the Big Ten Conference and the MAC have the same number of bowl invitations this season (seven apiece)? Have you heard or read such a fact? Just asking.

Thought No. 3: Bar bet, anyone? How many times has a Northern Illinois player held the NCAA FBS single-season quarterback rushing record? Not once, but twice.

Current Huskie QB Jordan Lynch (1,771 yards to date this season) and NIU Hall of Famer Stacey “Wishbone Wizard” Robinson (1,443 yards in 1989).

Thought No. 4: Speaking of Lynch, it was extremely disappointing to go all the way to page 15 of my Sunday Chicago Tribune to see the fact that the Northern Illinois QB finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

Yes, I saw the results online Saturday evening, but couldn’t the Trib staffer covering the event in New York mention Lynch’s finish in one of the final graphs of his story? One sentence about a “double” local as I call them - Chicago native, NIU product. These “suits” at 435 North Michigan Avenue really know how to localize national stories and sell newspapers.

Thought No. 5: Indulge the retired SID and imagine Northern Illinois Hall of Fame tailback LeShon Johnson playing on the 12-1 nationally ranked and 2012 MAC champion Huskies with those NCAA-leading 1,976 rushing yards as he did in 1993.

Impossible, I know. Think about it though. As a senior, “The Cowboy” played on a 4-7 Huskie team in the obscure Big West Conference with no, none, zero TV appearances that year and still placed sixth in the Heisman balloting.

If you search hard and look enough, you might find highlights from his 306-yard mega-game vs. Iowa on YouTube. I always maintained that with a 7-4 record and some TV exposure in 1993, LeShon would’ve easily finished as a Heisman finalist. Remember that next year, Jordan.

Thought No. 6: Yeah, I know Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s best defensive player recently, but who plays, runs the ball, or carries himself like a Nargurski even more? Jordan Lynch, don’t you agree?

Irony No. 2: What could be a more appropriate retirement gift for NIU president John Peters than the Orange Bowl bid? I think the Huskies’ No. 1 booster outdid himself on the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee this summer.

Thought No. 7: While many Huskie fans were disappointed in the publishing delay this past summer for author Dan Verdun’s Northern Illinois football book, it turns out to be quite fortuitous in a way. Right now, Verdun is adding a chapter on the Orange Bowl team and it should be available from the NIU Press in March. Book interviews range from Heimerdinger to Lynch with a forward written by Joe Novak. I can’t wait for my copy.

Thought No. 8: Did anybody catch head coach Dave Doeren’s final two words on the Huskie Radio Network after the Northern Illinois-Kent State game in Detroit? Prophetic? A hint? Code to North Carolina State AD Debbie Yow? Doeren walked away from sideline reporter Casey Kahler and said: “Adios amigo.” Who says radio is a dead medium?

Thought No. 9: For NIU fans who have problems with Lee Corso, remember one more thing: He’s a Seminole.

Fact No. 1: Since 1947, only two football programs in Mid-Am history have notched 13 wins in one season - Marshall (13-0 in 1999) and Miami (Oh.) (13-1 in 2003). Time for a third, eh? Hint, hint.

Thought No. 10: You know I couldn’t go all this way without mentioning ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit again. After all the negative rhetoric on the ESPN Bowl Selection Show, I still cannot believe no one on the set mentioned the century’s most egregious NCAA bowl snub (10-2 Northern Illinois in 2003) or the fact that the Huskies are among the nationalleaders in football Academic Progress Rate (No. 5) and graduation numbers (83 percent). I know, who cares in Bristol, Conn.

Then again, Herbstreit is probably still frustrated about playing backup QB at Ohio State - behind Wheaton, Ill, product Kent Graham in 1991. Look it up.

And you do know where Kent’s older brothers - strong safety-linebacker Russ (1979-82) and tight end-center Dan (1984-87) - played? That’s right. Northern Illinois.

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