EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) --Sound the trumpets and make way, the Northwestern Wildcats make their first-ever appearancein the NCAA tournament Thursday!
About 100 athletic staffers, traveled to Utah for the day to support the team's debut in the Big Dance. The men's team will take on Vanderbilt in Salt Lake City. Twenty-five lucky students won a campus raffle to see Cats play in person.
"Everyone is backing the Cats right now. It's awesome to hear. The whole week has been exciting. Really seeing a lot of purple out there," Northwestern University Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance Jane Wagner said.
Frank Orlandino, 69, is a season ticket holder and mega fan who was diagnosed with prostate cancer. During chemo, Head Coach Chris Collins wrote him a note, telling him to keep up the fight and kick cancer's butt. He drew strength from that note and is now in remission.
Orlandino thought he would be watching the game from home, since the trip to Salt Lake City was too expensive, until Athletic Director Jim Phillips called Wednesday night with a surprise.
"He goes, 'Do you feel up to going to the game?' Silence. He goes, 'Well if you're not up...' I said, 'No! No! I'm up for it. I was just pinching myself. Wait a minute!'" Orlandino said.
Before he boarded a bus to head to the airport Thursday morning, he gave the inspirational note back to Coach Collins.
"I'm hoping last night or today, when he ties his shoes and he goes, 'Am I up for this? Did I do this? Are they prepared?' Just hold the note for a second and you'll get the buzz," Orlandino said.
Many fans who couldn't make it to the game because of finals week or spring break plans have that buzz.
"It's just exciting. I know that we were pushing all year. Then all of the sudden we kind of went on a downfall, so we were wondering if we were even going to make the tournament. Then obviously got a big win at Wisconsin and everything like that. So it's been very exciting," said Chris Howard, a Wildcats fan.
Can't watch in person? Head to one of the big watch parties, like the one at the Davis Theater in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood.
"Something unique we're doing this year is having the game streamed on one of our movie theater screens," said Davis Theater General Manager Ryan Lowry.
The theater's watch party is first come, first serve. But they have been taking reservations.
Kincade's on Armitage Avenue in the city's Lincoln Park neighborhood will also sponsor a party Thursday. Northwestern also pointed fans to Wieboldt Hall in downtown Chicago and the Norris University Center in Evanston.
Although the Cats are playing about 1,400 miles away, they are sure to feel the love. The game is slated for 3:30 p.m. on TBS.