It takes mental toughness to do what the Northern Illinois football team did last week.
The Huskies topped the Iowa Hawkeyes, 30-27, before a crowd of 67,402, most of them wearing the home team’s black and old gold. The home crowd always does all it can to give its side an edge, shouting at the visitors as they try to call plays on offense, trying to fire up the home team, booing the visitors as they take the field.
The atmosphere can also be intimidating for those who come to cheer the visiting team, too, although that didn’t stop many loyal Huskies fans from making the trip to Iowa City, Iowa, last weekend.
Brendon Gallagher of DeKalb was an island unto himself among the Hawkeye faithful.
“They were already razzing me when I sat there, they were like, ‘Did you lose a bet?’ ” Gallagher said. “The guy I got [the tickets] from was an Iowa guy. I started looking around and I’m like, ‘Holy cow, I’m the only Northern person.’ ”
Gallagher, a 1990 NIU grad and former DeKalb alderman, didn’t let that dampen his enthusiasm. He cheered the Huskies on, got into at least one debate with the fans around him about whether a pass was incomplete or an interception (he won, kind of) and when the game was over, of course he was happier than most of the other fans in the stadium.
In fact, he said he’d like the Huskies to go back often, even if their fans are outnumbered 65 to 1.
“It was a terrific win, it was fun college football,” Gallagher said. “This game should be scheduled every year.”
Vince Scott and his friends didn’t mind being in the minority, either. Scott, a 1980 DeKalb High School grad, was a placekicker on the Huskies team that won the Mid-American Conference championship and the California Bowl in 1983. The whole “us-against-the-world” thing appeals to him.
“It’s always fun being the underdog when you’re in somebody else’s field,” Scott said.
Scott, who now lives in Park City, Utah, was there with a group of former Huskies players, including several others from the ’83 team, such as Dave Heide (defensive back), Dan Feely (center), Gary Schlinger (defensive end) and Pat McAvoy (linebacker).
Heide and Scott both played on the Barbs team that finished as state runner-up in ‘80.
Scott said that for the most part, the fans at Iowa were cordial enough, maybe because many of the students there are from the Chicago area.
“It was quite amazing how many Chicago people you met, during the game and tailgating,” Scott said. “And how many people said they were actually secretly rooting for NIU.”
All the same, there weren’t many people cheering when the Huskies pulled off their comeback win.
“It went silent in that stadium, it went dead silent except for our little section,” Scott said. “It was a great feeling.”
Castle Challenge: Since we’re talking football, here’s a reminder that DeKalb and Sycamore face off Friday at Huskie Stadium in what is annually the area’s biggest prep football game.
The varsity game starts at 7:30 p.m. Sycamore would have to be the favorite, given that this year it’s ranked No. 5 in Class 5A in the The Associated Press’s statewide poll and already has beaten another ranked team on the road. The Spartans have returned most of their starters from a squad that was narrowly eliminated in the second round of the playoffs last year, including quarterback Devin Mottet, who threw for 279 yards in the Week 1 victory at Lincoln-Way West.
Expectations are building.
But DeKalb has a new coach in Matt Weckler, and it’s running a new triple-option attack that can perplex defenses. The Barbs haven’t beaten the Spartans since 2007, but there’s more confidence on the DeKalb side than there has been in the past few years.
The game coincides with the Castle Challenge, a fundraiser that has generated more than $800,000 for the two schools’ booster clubs since its inception in 2000.
Tickets for Friday’s game are $12 for adults, $6 for children 12 and younger. They’re available at Castle Bank, the schools, Kishwaukee YMCA and from local student-athletes.
Last football note: The Bears join the football fray Sunday. Look for expanded team coverage in Monday’s Daily Chronicle, and online at HubArkush.com.
Sept. 11 today: I visited New York City for the first time this summer. As a lifelong Midwesterner, I can report that the things you hear about people being pushy, or the city being dirty and incredibly expensive are exaggerated.
OK, so they do put their trash on the street (we only saw one rat) and some places will charge $19 for a cocktail, but the people are nice enough and the city on the whole is fantastic. Go there. Bring cash.
During our visit, we stopped at the Sept. 11 Memorial. It brought home the enormity (and by that I do mean “great evil”) of what happened that day.
We saw children at the memorial for whom the events will only be the subjects of school study, TV documentaries, or a page on Wikipedia. It’s hard to believe it was 12 years ago – but I’m also glad those days were some time ago.
The tail end of 2001 was unsettling. We all knew that things would not be the same in our country. Anguish and anger led to wars, wide-reaching spying programs, and an entirely changed outlook about our “homeland security.”
When Wednesday comes, we should at least pause to remember what happened. We should teach our children about it in our schools and homes, if they’re old enough to understand.
That’s not always easy. I was a working journalist at a daily newspaper at the time, and I’ve seen so much of the photo, video and audio documentation of that day. I’ve interviewed people who were there that morning and told their stories at length. I’ve written and edited countless stories about Sept. 11 over the years.
Yet it hasn’t left me entirely desensitized. The photos still evoke the gnawing feelings of sadness and rage, and I was 800 miles away that day. For New Yorkers, those who were at the Pentagon, and any of the people who lost a friend or loved one, it must be worse.
The events of Sept. 11 were the most significant events of my lifetime, and that seems unlikely to change no matter how long I last.
It affected the entire world and cost many people their lives, not just the 2,977 brave first responders, innocent office workers, airline passengers and others who died in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., that day.
We must not forget what happened, why, and how.
• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.