Northwestern Football's official travel party left Evanston early Wednesday morning, Dec. 26, to travel to Jacksonville, Fla., for the official start of Gator Bowl Week. In each of the days leading up to the New Year's Day Gator Bowl, we'll have blogs in this space updating you on all of the activities our team and staff are enjoying.
In addition, check out our new Gator Bowl Facebook Tab, now available on our page at Facebook.com/NorthwesternAthletics. In this tab, we will have an updated video from each day down in Jacksonville as well as a regularly updated "Photo of the Day" and the ability to read our most recent Gator Bowl blog entry. Keep up with the #B1GCats conversation on Twitter from Facebook, as well, with an embedded #B1GCats twitter feed.
The majority of Northwestern staff and players scrambled to get back to Evanston late on Christmas Day after spending the holiday with family. At 6:45 a.m., an equipment truck loaded with gear left Ryan Field, followed an hour later by five buses filled with the official team travel party. Among the dignitaries traveling down early were University President Morton Schapiro and his family.
Media from local television stations at ABC, CBS and WGN stopped by to visit with NU's players and head coach Pat Fitzgerald in the blowing wind and snow in Evanston prior to the team's departure. Even more impressive, a hardy group of Northwestern Gridiron Network (NGN) members set up a tailgate complete with spirited morning beverages to cheer the team as they pulled away.
The United Boeing 777 charter left on schedule despite a nasty storm ravaging the east -- including a severe line of thunderstorms that passed through Jacksonville earlier this morning. On the plane, boxes of "good luck" cookies donated by Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl made the rounds.
The Wildcats were greeted at Jacksonville's airport by staff members in purple Northwestern hats. De-planing to a wonderfully humid 65º temperature, the 'Cats boarded buses for the short trip (alongside police escort) to the Jacksonville Omni. Along the way, NU passed by the home of the 2013 Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl.
Hotel staff did an incredible job tricking out the Omni lobby with Northwestern branding and swag, even putting the fight song on repeat as players and staff checked in, and later retrieved their bags. Later tonight, Gator Bowl officials will host a "Team Welcome Dinner" right here at the Omni. This already is setting up to be a fun week!