If NIU battling Toledo with MAC Championship implications wasn't enough of a throwback for Huskie fans, seeing former running back Garrett Wolfe on the sidelines must have maxed out the nostalgia meter.
Wolfe, currently a running back for the Chicago Bears, returned to Huskie Stadium for Tuesday night's showdown to be honored as a Huskie Legend. He finished his career at NIU atop the career rushing list with 5,136 yards, along with an NIU career-high 57 touchdowns.
Records aside, Wolfe also won the Vern Smith Leadership Award winner (MAC MVP) and MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2006. He was named a first-team Playboy All-American that year and was a three-time first-team All-MAC performer.
"It's great to be back, especially on a night like this," Wolfe said "I take a lot of pride in where I come from and it's good to see [NIU] doing well."
For Wolfe, Tuesday's game recalled the glory days of the NIU program. He helped lead the Huskies to their only MAC Championship game back in 2005. That year, after missing three games due to injury, Wolfe rushed for 177 yards and two touchdowns to down the Rockets 35-17 in front of a national audience on ESPN2.
It was the Huskies' first win in Toledo's Glass Bowl since 1972.
"Its the biggest rivalry in the MAC," Wolfe added. "Coach [Joe] Novak used to always say, ‘The road to the MAC Championship runs through Toledo.' Toledo had more marquee players when we beat them; they had Bruce Gradkowski , Lance Moore, but this is still Toledo. The MAC West still goes through Toledo."
Wolfe, along with NIU running backs William Andrews (1999), Thomas Hammock (2000-2001), Michael Turner (2002-2003) and Justin Anderson (2007), combined for nine straight seasons with at least 1,000 yards rushing. Wolfe recorded 1,000-yard seasons from 2004-2006.
The streak was interrupted in 2008 but current NIU running back Chad Spann has now recorded 1,000 yards for two straight seasons, possibly restarting one of NIU's greatest on-field traditions.
"Chad, in the time that I've watched, has done nothing but impress me," Wolfe said. "I'm excited to see him do well. I wish the 1,000-yard streak would have continued for an extended period of time, but I'm happy to see Chad doing well and playing at a high level."
Wolfe is currently a running back for the Chicago Bears, seeing playing time primarily on special teams. The NFC North-leading Bears (5-3) will be back in action on Sunday, Nov. 14 against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field.