Some stories should never be forgotten.
1958 was a great year for UB football. UB won eight games and defeated then-powerhouses Columbia and Harvard, making UB the top small college football program in the East and winner of the Lambert Cup.
The Lambert Cup was awarded in New York City on Dec. 14, 1958. The team’s co-captains, Nick Bottini and Lou Reale, accepted the cup, with Chancellor Clifford C. Furnas, athletic director Jim Peele, coach Dick Offenhamer and members of the Lambert family looking on. There was a dinner at Toots Shor’s and an appearance on the popular Sunday night television program “The Ed Sullivan Show.” With the Lambert Cup and an invitation to play Florida State in the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, it was arguably UB’s best season in 102 years of football. What happened next also made it one of the university’s finest hours.
UB was informed that the team’s two African-American players, Willie Evans and Mike Wilson, would not be welcome in Orlando because it would violate a rule of the host Orlando, Fla., school district prohibiting blacks and whites from playing on the same field. The team unanimously rejected the bowl invitation.
“Those of us who thrilled to their performances recognize them as fine football players, gentlemen and worthy representatives of the university,” Furnas said. “We have never been concerned with the color of their skins, nor do we think that should be made a point of issue by anyone else.”
The 1958 team’s unified stance against racism was a great and principled action, inspiring to others, and dignified themselves, the university, and all of Buffalo in the eyes of the entire nation.