‘A joyful home-coming’: Celebrating NIU’s 113th Homecoming

Noah Thornburgh

DeKALB – James I. Frederick, starting left tackle for the 1901 Huskies, was back on campus Oct. 9, 1903, and the Huskies were nervous.

“He stated that he merely came in to see how we prospered in our school work,” the Norther, NIU’s first campus publication, reported. “But the boys all knew that he had been sent ahead to terrorize the ‘Cubs’ for the game on the following day.”

The following afternoon, a bright and clear Saturday, the returning “Grave Alumni” were bested by the fledgling Huskie “Cubs” with a score of 6–0. The Cubs, “although small in size and few in numbers,” proved themselves worthy to defend the honor of what was then the Northern Illinois State Normal School.

Three years and three alumni games later, the Norther first used the term “home-coming” to describe the now annual tradition.

“The second week in October proved to be a joyful ‘home-coming’ of a large number of our alumni,” the Norther reported. “On the field and on the sidelines they acted very much at home. All during the day and on Sunday their familiar faces were to be seen everywhere.”

Mike Korcek, former sports information director for NIU Athletics, said the 1903 Huskies — those 218 students studying at the young normal school — should be given credit for their “home-coming” vision.

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“This is what Homecoming is about,” Korcek said. “Seeing old friends and celebrating what NIU did for all of us. These kids from 1903 should be in the Hall of Fame.”

Korcek saw quite a few homecomings, first as a student in the stands between 1966 and 1970, then in the press box between 1973 and 2006.

He remembered staring stunned at the half-time scoreboard of the 1990 Homecoming game when the Huskies were up a stunning 42–7 against the Fresno State University Bulldogs, then ranked 24th in the nation on the Associated Press poll.

NIU went on to win the game 73–18.

Quarterback Stacey Robinson broke NCAA records that game for most single-game net rushing yards by a quarterback with 308 yards and most net rushing yards in a half with 287.

“First of all, we know where the credit goes,” Robinson said to the Northern Star after the game. “It starts with the [offensive line]. We had all 11 guys executing right. It seemed like we couldn’t do anything wrong. Everybody deserves credit.”

The record-breaking game earned a front page spot in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune.

Two years later, rowdy Huskies tore down the goal posts and tossed them in the lagoon after a homecoming victory against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.

A year after that, the Huskies did the same to the replacement posts after a victory against the Pacific Tigers.

An NIU much different than the 218-student normal school looks to continue the 116-year-old tradition Saturday against the Akron Zips — a persistence worthy of praise, Korsek said.

“The only constant in the world is change,” he said. “Here we are, celebrating our 113th Homecoming and, in this day and age, a 113th anything is spectacular.”