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updated: 12/31/2012 5:14 PM

NIU's Baker ready for team's biggest stage

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  • Northern Illinois play-by-play commentator Bill Baker, right, has been calling Huskies football and basketball for 33 years, and Tuesday he'll call his first Orange Bowl game when the Huskies play Florida State.

    Northern Illinois play-by-play commentator Bill Baker, right, has been calling Huskies football and basketball for 33 years, and Tuesday he'll call his first Orange Bowl game when the Huskies play Florida State.
    Photo courtesy Scott Walstrom, NIU Media Services


Goodbye Toledo, hello Miami.

While Northern Illinois' trip to the Orange Bowl is the feel-good story of the college football bowl season, it's also quite a thrill for the man who will be calling the action, the longtime voice of the Huskies, Bill Baker.

After 33 years of calling Huskie football and basketball, the Montgomery resident is just as excited as the players and coaches over the prospect of taking on Florida State on New Year's Day.

Baker talked with the Daily Herald before he left for his bowl game duties.

Q. This has got to be the biggest game of your career, correct?

A. Oh, there's no doubt.

You look back and you could point to games like Alabama -- you go down there and get a win. Or you can point to the last two Mid-American Conference championships.

Those were huge and always will be, but this is something special. This is the BCS. The lights are never going to be brighter on this program than what they will be down in Miami.

I grew up watching the Orange Bowl -- that was always the game everybody waited for, it was the last bowl game on New Year's Day.

Never, never did I think I'd get the chance to broadcast one. But like I say, that's why you play the game -- you never know what's going to happen.

Q. Do you realize or appreciate the cult following you have?

A. No (laughs), honestly no. The only thing I'm aware of is I know the guys from The Score use that "Goodbye Toledo" thing from a year-and-a-half ago. I kind of wish there was a way I could get some royalties off of that.

Q. Would you have anything prepared if Northern does upset Florida State?

A. I didn't have the "Goodbye Toledo" prepared. I've never done that.

The "Goodbye" call, I have used that for years now. Usually it takes a special kind of a game and you really don't think about it, it just kind of spills out.

Q. Was that MAC championship weekend the craziest weekend you've ever experienced in broadcasting?

A. Absolutely. No question.

You had all the different storylines. The numbers with Jordan Lynch and is he or is he not a Heisman hopeful?

And then you've got the MAC Championship game, three straight appearances and, of course, the BCS talk is floating around and that (NIU) would even be in position for that.

Then surrounding the whole thing was the, I'll just call it the indication, that Dave Doeren was going to get a better job offer. Really, he did a great job of keeping this thing out of the limelight and away from the public. To keep the focus of his players was truly a great piece of work by him.

Q. And then once you get in, there wasn't too much time to enjoy it because of the ranting on ESPN.

A. I was with the team the night they announced it. And to be honest, I anticipated some backlash. I knew there were going to be critics.

I knew the media was going to pounce on it to some degree, but I didn't think they'd do it 5 minutes after the selection was announced.

For crying out loud, give us 24 hours to enjoy it before you try to slice the club to ribbons it just wasn't fair.

Q. Did you notice the excitement on campus?

A. The real shame of it is that the campus had a week maybe to come together and enjoy this thing, and then came final exams and everybody's gone.

It really would have been nice to have the kids at school a little longer so they could've had the chance to get involved in this thing a little bit more.

Q. Might Northern pull off a shocker on New Year's Day?

A. It's entirely possible. I've done a little homework on this game and quite frankly, when you look at the numbers, it's a scary proposition. In terms of total defense, Florida State is No. 2 in the nation behind Alabama. Florida State has it all.

There are a couple of what ifs but Florida State has it all; they have the size and the speed from top to bottom and front to back.

But I like the fact that it's strength against strength in this game. I think the strength of our club has turned out to be our offense, and I think the strength of their club is their defense.

Anything can happen. That's why you play the game.

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