Fans bring fun factor to Discover Orange Bowl

Sun Life Stadium rocked with life Tuesday on a beautiful, balmy South Florida night as the 79th Discover Orange Bowl brought postseason college football magic to a boisterous, fun-loving crowd.

The temperature Tuesday night in DeKalb, Ill., home of the Northern Illinois University Huskies, dipped to 9 degrees.

The temperature in Miami Gardens, where the previously unheralded and underappreciated Huskies hoped to upset the 14-point-favorite Florida State Seminoles: 71 degrees, with barely a breeze to the delight of both quarterbacks.

The celebration began hours before the game, as thousands of fans clad in red, black and white (Huskies) and garnet and gold (Seminoles) tailgated in the stadium and visited the Orange Bowl Fan Zone.

Add in the Miami Hurricanes fans wearing orange and green — after all, they claimed, this IS the home stadium of the Canes — and you had a little variety and a lot of commotion.

“This has been really special,’’ said Orange Bowl Committee CEO Eric Poms, who said more than 72,000 tickets were sold. “Each team has been appreciative.’’

Seminole fans wore headdresses.

Huskies fans wore bright red T-shirts that read: KIRK HERBSTREIT can bite me!

Herbstreit, a high-profile college football commentator for ESPN, basically said last month that the little-known Huskies getting a berth into a Bowl Championship Series game was a disgrace.

Kyle Weiss, who proudly wore his T-shirt, adamantly disagreed.

“He went off on a tirade and more or less bashed us,’’ Weiss, 26, said. “We absolutely deserve to be here. We didn’t make the BCS rules. We just played by them.

“Florida State is a good team, but they’re not invincible.’’

John O’Brien, 29, a firefighter and paramedic from Coconut Grove, held up a not-so-flattering sign about NIU females.

“It’s always great to see people from Illinois who want to escape sub-zero temperatures,’’ O’Brien said, predicting a “close game — Florida State 76,’’ he said, “NIU 6.’’

Nearby, Monica Vega, 24, shouted, “We got some Canes over here!!’’ to which her friend Jessica Arriole replied the customary “Whoosh! Whoosh!’’

“My house has been divided since I was born,’’ Vega said. “I’m a UM grad and my dad went to FSU Law School. They’re on our turf, but we’re still representing.’’

Cristina Fernandez, 21, a UM senior, wore a green winter UM cap with green-and-orange pom-poms and a UM hoodie. “My dad is on the Orange Bowl Committee and he gave us the option of sitting on the FSU side or Northern Illinois side. I said, ‘Please DO NOT sit us with the Seminoles.’ ’’

One stadium vendor selling souvenirs said Northern Illinois fans were more enthusiastic about buying red-and-black GoNuts Kukui — necklaces made of nuts from the state tree of Hawaii. “Worn by the reigning chiefs and kings of Hawaii,’’ a poster stated, “the kukui nut lei is a symbol of good luck.’’

“Northern Illinois is the underdog so they’re a little more proud,’’ explained vendor Sheena Decesare.

Donning the necklaces were former NIU football players Aaron Gilbert and Paul McAndrews and their NIU-alumni wives, who made the trip from outside Chicago.

Gilbert, the quarterback in 1994 and ’95; and McAndrews, a defensive end in 1992 and ’93, said they wouldn’t miss this game for anything.

“They earned the opportunity to play at this level and I’m proud of them,’’ Gilbert said.

Added McAndrews: “I make a point of not reminding people that we weren’t nearly as good.’’

A group of Huskies held up a bedsheet they “borrowed’’ from their hotel, and wrote on it in red and black, “LET’S WIN THIS Doggy-Style.’’

“I’m not going to say I know everything about football,’’ said student Tommy Hurrell, “but we have a hard-working team with a positive mentality.

“Anyway, all our other sports teams are duds. This is our spotlight.’’

Inside the stadium, the pregame festivities included red-and-purple fireworks and six members of the Wings of Blue Air Force Academy parachute team who parachuted onto the field before kickoff.

At least three missed their mark, including the one carrying the Northern Illinois flag. He landed in the Seminoles end zone and skidded toward the wall.

But all was well — at least for ’Noles fans — when at 9:12 p.m., the crowd erupted in an “FSU! FSU! FSU!” frenzy as Seminoles fullback Lonnie Pryor sprinted 60 yards down the left sideline to put Florida State up 7-0 late in the first quarter.

FSU led 17-10 with about 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

The pregame fun also included the Seminoles Marching Chiefs. That was the only reason proud dad David Stanford of Trinity, Fla., attended the Orange Bowl. His daughter Jennifer, 19, is a freshman who plays “the marching band version of the French horn.

“The football game to me is like the halftime show,’’ Stanford said. “My daughter, for me, is the game.’’

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