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Local radio voice Bill Baker savors NIU’s success

Members Northern Illinois University football team celebrate their victory over Kent State MAC championship game Nov. 30. | Carlos Osorio~AP

Members of the Northern Illinois University football team celebrate their victory over Kent State in the MAC championship game on Nov. 30. | Carlos Osorio~AP

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Updated: January 8, 2013 6:28AM

“We’ll take the high road and you take the Herbstreit, and we’ll get to Miami, afore ye.”

Don’t know if that parody of an old Scottish refrain was heard in Fatty’s Pub and Grille or any other Huskie Nation hangout in DeKalb late Sunday night, but it would have been appropriate after ESPN GameDay host Kirk Herbstreit called the Northern Illinois football team’s Orange Bowl invitation “an absolute joke.”

Many of us NIU alums weren’t laughing, and neither was Bill Baker. He’s the voice of the Huskies, who just played by the rules. They didn’t write them.

“I’d like to publicly thank — I’ll call him Herbie, I guess, although there’s other terms I could use — for giving us all of three or four minutes to celebrate the most noteworthy announcement in both Northern Illinois and Mid-American Conference football history,” said the Aurora broadcaster who has done Northern football and basketball games for 33 years.

“He couldn’t have waited a day and let us enjoy it?”

Baker, whose emphatic “Good-bye Toledo! Good-bye Toledo!” call at the end of a 63-60 football win in 2011 has become a favorite ‘drop’ for the hosts on sportstalker WSCR (670 AM), was feeling similar gut-wrenching emotion Sunday when the BCS- busting Orange Bowl bid was announced on national television.

He and broadcast partner Mark Lindo learned late of the team’s watch party on campus for the 7:30 p.m. ESPN broadcast and raced from Lindo’s Oswego home, making it to the Yordon Center in what we’ll call record time to see the players’ reaction.

“It was like those shots you see of basketball teams making the NCAA Tournament, but instead of 12-15 players there were 115 guys jumping up and down and oranges were flying everywhere,” Baker said.

Their broadcast the night of Jan. 1 when NIU meets Florida State will come from Miami’s Sun-Life Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins and the seventh NFL stadium Baker figures he’s broadcast a Huskie game from in his tenure.

“I can’t think of a more rewarding, hectic 30 or so hours beginning with Friday’s double overtime win (in Detroit) against Kent State in the MAC Championship game and including the announcement that Dave Doeren was leaving for North Carolina State, the bowl bid and then the announcement of Rod Carey as the new coach,” Baker said.

The facilities will be a far cry from last year’s broadcast of the Huskies’ win over Arkansas State in the 2012 Bowl at 60-year-old Ladd-Peebles Stadium, which is also home to the Senior Bowl.

That night, Baker and Lindo called the game from their improvised “booth” in a stairwell, whose concrete walls at one end of the press box made it sound like they were in a cave. The Arkansas State broadcasters were in the stairwell at the opposite end.

“The press box had a TV booth (which ESPN was using) and two radio booths, which the bowl committee was using to entertain sponsors and clients,” Baker said with a chuckle.

“Everything else was phenomenal. All the events leading up the game, including the Mardi Gras-like parade, welcome luncheon and tour of the U.S.S. Alabama was a lot of fun. And the committee bent over backwards trying to make (the stairwell) accommodating for us, even changing the lights.”

With his Huskies stepping to the fore as a national story this week, Baker’s reactions to the coverage have run the gamut.

“I’ve seen some great stories and some bad ones,” he said. “In the second to last paragraph of one today it said ‘NIU used a loophole in the system’ to get the Orange Bowl bid.

“That’s wrong, Northern used the system and this was supposed to happen. I also saw another that said if this chain of events had happened in 2014, when they will have the new four-team playoff in place, NIU would still be in the BCS.”

Take that, Herbie.

“The lights will be bright (in Miami). The whole thing is surreal,” concluded Baker. “To think, we’ll be there in just under four weeks is absolutely goofy.”

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