Unlikely Bulls fan savors bowl memories
UB fans Brian Little (left) and Philip Cummings relax at the Alumni Association’s pre-game party in the Rogers Centre.
The “fan of the game” takes his college football seriously.
The bus was packed with people of all ages clothed in UB blue, the sky still dark as we sped from Alumni Arena early Saturday morning. My husband, Glenn, B.S. ’73, and I were part of a UB caravan headed to Toronto for the Bulls’ historic appearance at the 2008 International Bowl.
Like many, we were newcomers to this passion for Bulls football. Glenn wrestled for UB in the 1970s and understands the workings of most sports. I, on the other hand, am utterly unknowing about all sports except figure skating. For instance, I only recently discovered that the expression “flag on the field” means just that. It is neither a rhetorical device nor a metaphor for a penalty. Although I’m a loyal UB employee of 30 years, I paid little attention to the Bulls before now, except to wince at the dismal records that once seemed insurmountable.
Our family’s enthusiasm for the Bulls began percolating in 2007 when we attended three home games. In August, we upgraded to season tickets and attended all six 2008 home games. My three siblings—knowledgeable football enthusiasts located around the country—were much amused by my abrupt transition from indifferent sports observer to gung-ho Bulls fan. They, too, began to follow the Bulls, watching the national broadcasts or otherwise tracking the team’s progress.
Arriving at the Rogers Centre Saturday morning, Glenn and I were greeted by a sea of blue-and-white attire, plus a sense of vitality, excitement, pride and hope. At the pregame party sponsored by the UB Alumni Association, we sat with two strangers and immediately struck up a conversation about what had drawn us to the International Bowl. Philip Cummings, M.Arch. ’80, B.A. ’76, of Lockport, described how he had introduced his friend, Brian Little of Gasport —an ardent Buffalo Bills fan—to what was happening at UB. While we were talking, Director of Athletics Warde Manuel stopped by our table, making his rounds to greet fans and thank them for their support. We were much impressed with his grace and obvious sincerity.
Once in the stadium, we squeezed into the notably small seats. I’d attended a Blue Jays game 10 years ago with our exchange student son and didn’t recall the accommodations being so cozy. I hoped it didn’t mean a significant weight gain over the past decade. Once play began, I had to ask my husband a few “dumb” questions, while also paying attention to the screen displays of Bulls and Huskies fans and their antics. Throughout these displays, blue seemed the predominant color, not surprising inasmuch as UB sold out its allotment of 10,000 tickets—with another 7,000 or so sold locally contributing to the announced attendance of 40,184, a record for the International Bowl.
In particular, the crowd seemed to enjoy many of these random people shots, especially of fanciful, varied, intricate headgear. My own favorite—and later recognized as “fan of the game”—was the man, naturally bald or his head shaven for the occasion, who had painted his head and entire torso in blue and white, with gasp-inducing precision.
Another sign of the Bulls’ arrival was the mob scene in front of a booth selling Bulls apparel. We were there to purchase a souvenir T-shirt for my 13-year-old nephew, Billy. We had to turn back, however, because of a crowd at least 12-deep. In the third-quarter, I was able to get through and purchased Billy’s shirt, plus a winter cap for Glenn.
On the field, there were thrills, moments of annoyance and, of course, disappointment at the final outcome. Throughout the game, I took note of the people sitting nearby, including a group of twenty-somethings who frequently interspersed their commentary with the F-word. As hopes dimmed for a victory, their rate of profanity accelerated dramatically. When the woman next to us began to squirm, I turned around, played “mom” and asked them to kindly remember the “mixed company,” hoping not to sound too prissy. They complied politely and slowed down their F-talk.
Later, I had occasion to speak to one of these young men, Joe from Niagara Falls. Now Joe was all geniality, consoling us in our heartbreak and pointing out that what really mattered were the recruitment opportunities made possible by the team’s success. “It’s all about building the [UB] program,” he said.
Constantly reminding us of the larger achievement, of course, were members of the 1958 Lambert Cup team, who had courageously turned down a bid to the Tangerine Bowl when confronted with racial intolerance. Twenty-six team members were present and formally recognized just before kickoff. Later, when ESPN’s story about the team played on screen, the crowd spontaneously applauded. I noticed that our young friends behind us—the ones with the penchant for profanity—cheered loudly at each mention of the 1958 team, recounting to each other the remarkable story of athletes’ heroism transcending the playing field.
Before Saturday’s bowl game, I would wonder about friends and family who got so caught up in their favorite sports teams. Their reactions could seem so over the top—irrational almost. For instance, I recall my sister, a thoughtful book collector and attorney, placing her Bills schedule—marked up with won-lost results—out of view in her garage. This way, she wouldn’t have to gaze too often upon the unfavorable results as hopes dimmed for the season.
Now I was the one to understand this emotional reaction—why losing hurts, yet is bound to the thrill of victory. After all, Saturday’s disappointment cannot be separated from Drew Willy’s outstanding record of pass completions, James Starks’ awesome running game or Naaman Roosevelt’s poised, acrobatic receptions.
Like every fan—longstanding or recently on the bandwagon—I want to thank these Bulls players and their brilliant coach, Turner Gill. The Bulls have certainly given us memories to savor as winter settles in. Now we can start dreaming about the next Bulls season and what it will bring to the campus and our larger community so grateful for our moment in the sun.