Saturday, January 03, 2009

Buffalo Bulls: then and fifty years later

A reunion of some of the 1958 UB athletes from a great ESPN article.

I'm watching the University of Connecticut make mincemeat of the University of Buffalo's offense in one of the most improbable of the post-season college football games, the International Bowl, played in Toronto. What kind of US college football game gets played after New Years in Canada?

The game itself should be even more of a blowout for UConn than it is, as the Bulls seem completely hapless -- except that Connecticut has fumbled the ball five times.

But that's not what this post is about. The game has brought to the fore the story of the last time that Buffalo earned a bowl berth -- 50 years ago. That year, when UB was still a small private school that played the likes of Harvard, the team won eight games. They were invited to the Tangerine Bowl to be played in Orlando, Florida. Then it came out that Black and white players were not allowed to appear together on the field that had been chosen for the bowl.

Buffalo had two Black athletes. The 1958 team unanimously voted not to go the Florida game to reject this discrimination. The 2008 team dedicated its bowl to these forebears.

Willie Evans, one of those Black players, explained the context to a UB magazine last year.

"It was a big deal for Buffalo at the time ... Blacks weren't included in the paper at all for any reason, yet we were on the front page. When we were coming back from Harvard, the pilot told us that there were a couple thousand students waiting for us at the airport. It was great support."

... Evans had never visited any of the southern states.

"I had a chip on my shoulder from the experience. It was a matter of letting it beat you down or not. I saw it as an opportunity to show my athleticism." ...

Since his playing days, Evans has remained active in the University community...

"One reason why I'm still with the university is the way things have come," Evans said. "Diversity is something that has caught on with the campus. We're not there yet, but it has improved significantly since I was here. There are expectations that exist now that were not around when I was a student."

Today, UB has the most highly praised Black coach in the college game, Turner Gill. He's an amazing coach, but the competition to be a leading Black coach isn't as stiff as it might be; though 50 percent of the athletes in the 117 big time schools are Black, only three of their coaches are Black. There may be a few more next season, but something is wrong here.

As an eleven year-old football fan growing up in Buffalo in 1958, I should remember this history, but I don't. The University of Buffalo was off my radar; I remember watching the traditional conferences, the PAC-8 and the Big-8, in their post season appearances.

But back then, I did acquire a bowl watching habit that I keep to this day. Given a choice of unknown competitors to root for (that's bowl season for you), I'll always gravitate to the least Southern team.

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