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Naperville’s downtown filled with North Central College football fans to watch playoff game

Gary Groharing (right) and wife Coleen (plaid scarf) cheer on the North Central College football team on Saturday at Bar Louie in Naperville. Groharing played football for the Cardinals, and met Colleen when students at NCC. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
North Central College football fans at The Lantern erupt as the Cardinals score a touchdown on Saturday. Many had migrated from Bar Louie, across the street, when Bar Louie was unable to get a TV picture at the start of the game. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
(L to R) Ron Goodin, John Geyer, and Craig Frier cheer a play by the North Central College football team at The Lantern on Saturday. Goodin and Geyer are NCC grads. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
North Central College football fans watch the action on the screen at The Lantern on Saturday, December 14, 2013. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media

Football fans by the millions will be hovered around televisions in the next few weeks as college bowl games and the NFL playoffs are set to begin.

But students, faculty, alums, and other supporters of the North Central College football team had their own local parties Saturday in downtown Naperville to watch the Cardinals play in Alliance, Ohio, against the University of Mount Union’s Purple Raiders in the semifinal round of the NCAA III playoffs.

Places like The Lantern, Bar Louie and other establishments downtown were a sea of red, with NCC fans following all the action intently.

Mary Reynolds, associate director of alumni relations, said Cardinal mania began in earnest at Bar Louie last year when the football team traveled to California and Oregon and continued this year when the school’s basketball team was in the playoffs.

“We approached Bar Louie about having a party here for locals and alums, and we have people that come down from the college and do all the wiring and TV hook-ups so that fans can watch the streaming of the game online,” Reynolds said. “It’s a great way to get people who graduated two of three years ago or 40 years ago to come back and get reacquainted. We had 150 people last week when the team played and we’re expecting the same crowd this week.”

At 11 a.m., the bar and surrounding tables were busy as fans sipped beer, munched snacks, and gazed at multiple flat screen TVs throughout the restaurant. Within 10 minutes, the whole bar erupted as North Central scored a touchdown on their first possession — but sadly, Cardinal fans didn’t see it.

“We understand there are problems with the ESPN generator in Ohio, and they are trying to fix it,” explained Skelly Porcellino, a 2005 graduate of North Central who also works in the college’s development office. “We work in the same place as alumni relations, and things at the college have been crazy. The minute the team won last week, the phones were ringing off the hook with people asking about what the plans were for the next game.”

Fans dressed in Cardinal red representing scores of former classes and even players spoke enthusiastically about their team and the small Midwest school that has come so far.

“I went to school in the late ‘80s and I still am working on finishing my degree,” said Joe Madden of Batavia, who came with friends Dan Foys of Tinley Park and Tony Garvy who lives in Naperville. “The three of us went to high school together in Chicago and we were all roommates here at North Central. The fact that we’re where we are in the playoffs is fantastic, and the weather today hasn’t stopped anyone from coming.”

Roxanna Pinnow of Naperville said she graduated from North Central in 1968 and that continuing to support her alma mater is more about pride in it as well as continuing to see old friends.

“This isn’t about hanging on to your youth or trying to relive your life back then, it’s about pride in your school,” Pinnow said. “We go to all the home games and we’re proud of the cross country team and all the other squads. We’re proud fans of Cardinal Country.”

Naperville resident John Geyer said he played for the North Central football team from 1963 through 1966 as a linebacker and that today’s team, “is bigger, faster, and probably smarter.”

“I always figured that North Central was a sleeping giant and it was only a matter of time until we got a coach here with some Midwest experience,” he said. “You’ve got some of the best football teams in the state right around here for recruiting.”

Bar Louie manager Corey Knowles said he and his staff are happy to support the fan parties as North Central remains a solid patron of the establishment.

“The college here is outstanding and the students that come here are always respectful,” he said. “We host as many things as we can, and the alumni and college kids have always been great.

“Last week, it got a little quiet when the team got behind, but after they took the lead, the place went crazy. And the energy has been building ever since.”

Unfortunately, North Central barely lost Saturday 41-40 to Mount Union. But the memories of Saturday, for the fans at the Lantern, Bar Louie and throughout the city, will last a good, long time.

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