Just moments after 10 students from Northern Illinois University stepped off their bus Friday in downtown Naperville, a car horn blared.
“Go Huskies!” the driver shouted.
And the students, flanked by mascot Victor E. Huskie, cheered and waved in return.
Their stop outside Dean’s Clothing at Main Street and Jackson Avenue was part of a marathon stunt that lasted more than 12 hours to support the NIU football team.
The Huskies will make history Jan. 1 when they become the first Mid-America Conference school to play in a Bowl Championship Series game when they take on Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
To raise awareness of the milestone, the students left DeKalb before dawn Friday and traveled to busy spots in the Chicago area to hand out — of course — oranges. Two-thousand oranges, to be precise.
They started with prime spots in downtown Chicago such as Daley Plaza, Michigan Avenue and Macy’s on State Street. Then they hit key suburban targets including downtown Glen Ellyn and Naperville, and finished at 4:30 p.m. in downtown Geneva.
“We want to get the word out that the MAC is back,” said Lauren Bodey of Lily Lake.
Bodey and fellow student Pettee Guerrero of Chicago said fans who heard about their efforts sought them out during the day, and one even tweeted that she was disappointed to have missed them in Chicago.
But plenty of NIU fans and alumni found the group so they could snag their oranges and show their support.
Alumni Kyle Papp and Ashley Lang, both of Naperville, chatted with the group as the scent of oranges began to permeate along Main Street. Papp said the Huskies football program has steadily improved over the past decade, but has gone largely unnoticed.
“It’s good they were able to kind of beat the system,” Papp said. “New Year’s Day will be a huge football day and, on Jan. 1, everyone will get to see what the Huskies are all about.”
So far, NIU fans have claimed roughly 6,600 tickets to the Orange Bowl game.
Roughly 10,000 tickets priced between $75 and $165 remain available in the NIU sections of the stadium, officials said.
NIU is responsible for filling 17,500 seats in Sun Life Stadium for the game.
The university will continue to accept orders through the NIU Athletics Ticket Office in person and by phone at (815) 752-6800 until Dec. 23.
All orders must be picked up either at the ticket office (through Dec. 23) or in Miami (Dec. 26-Jan. 1).
Jeff Compher, director of athletics, said purchasing the tickets through NIU’s office helps the school offset the costs of the bowl game and shows support for the team.
The school does not reap the same benefits if tickets are bought through another agency, he said.
Ultimately, though, officials at the Mid-American Conference are working to ensure NIU does not lose money on its surprise journey to the Orange Bowl, no matter how many tickets it sells, an NIU spokesman said.
The spokesman said MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher has spoken with NIU President John Peters about keeping the university in the black.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.