Hyped contest gets little fan support at NIU

By Jeff Kirik

NIU’s 23-20 win over Southwestern Louisiana might have been the best football game nobody saw in the last 10 or 15 years.

Well, maybe saying “nobody” is exaggerating, but not by much.

Saturday’s game had been billed as an all-or-nothing shootout in which the Huskies and the Ragin‘ Cajuns would battle to keep their bowl aspirations intact.

The game was just that.

The contest also was hyped as a matchup between two of the most electrifying quarterbacks in the country—USL jackrabbit Brian Mitchell and NIU’s elusive Stacey “Sauce” Robinson.

That hype proved to be legitimate, too.

But this game, which surely will be remembered for a long time by the coaches, players and several fans that were there, featured much more than what was expected.

There were the gutsy decisions by NIU coach Jerry Pettibone, who twice “bet the pot” by going on fourth down when his team was in field-goal range for the tying score. There was NIU’s version of The Drive that started on its own 23-yard line with 4:06 to go. This drive will not become as nationally famous as The Drive by San Francisco in the Super Bowl, but the Huskie rendition was every bit as thrilling.

Finally, there was The Play. Down 20-17 with three seconds left, the Huskies went for the win. It was only justice that the final play was an option—a play the Huskies’ have lived and died with all season. Likewise, it was only justice that Robinson kept the ball and swept around the end as he had done 20-some times earlier in the game. And perhaps it was most fitting that No. 7 bolted into the end zone from 7 yards out as time expired, sending his team dancing onto the field in joy and sending his opponents to the ground in disbelief.

What did not seem fitting was that only 5,604 fans were there to watch the drama. I stopped at the DeKalb High School football game later that night, and it was obvious that NIU out-drew the Barbs by about the size of one Huskie Marching Band.

I’m not complaining. And I certainly don’t think it’s my job to try to boost the attendance of the games. What I will say is that I’ve found a bit of irony in this whole experience.

It is not uncommon to hear NIU students bicker about how bad the athletic teams are. On Saturday, the 6-2 Huskies faced a solid USL squad in a game with huge implications for both schools and their chances for reaching a bowl.

So what happened? There were more reporters at the game than there were fans.

Remember, a lot of different factors are involved in the bowl-selection process—and fan interest is one of the more important ones. NIU finally has that exciting, winning football team that many people on campus say they so dearly want.

But doesn’t it seem ironic that the thing that might halt this team’s march toward a bowl is the fact that nobody seems to care?