The 1960's was a great decade for UB football. UB moved into the top division for football, and held their own, starting the decade 23-21-2 and finishing strong, 29-18-2. The Bulls mastered the transition, and looked forward to establishing themselves as a force in football in the 70's.
But this is not a football story. This is a story of how it all fell apart. In the early 1960's UB was at a crossroads. Ambition and budgetary issues led Buffalo to join the SUNY system in 1962. Eight years later, the move would destroy UB Football, community goodwill and the momentum of the University as a whole.
Chancellor turned President Furnas, an engineer by trade, was dedicated to a well-rounded education, and wanted to improve the liberal arts at UB. Furnas was also a former Olympian dedicated to the improvement of UB athletics. As former Assistant Secretary of Defense, he could have used his influence and UB's talent in engineering to support the school with Military projects, however he was surprisingly, and as it turns out wisely, against UB performing defense research.
Without the use of military money, Furnas turned to the State to help fund his ambitious plans for UB. He used the infusion of cash from the SUNY system to hire liberal arts faculty from around the country, but was blindsided by the loss of administrative control. In 1964, SUNY Chancellor fired a radical English professor against Furnas' wishes and in spite of an agreement not to do so. A year later, Furnas would retire.
The retirement of Furnas came at the worst time as the conflicts of the time were managed by Furnas who had enough clout in Buffalo and Nationally to keep all dissidents at bay. Without Furnas the faculty splintered into two factions:
The conservative Buffalonian Medical and Engineering faculty that did not want to be a part of SUNY, they wanted to stay private and fund themselves with military research.
The liberal arts non-Buffalonian faculty who were engrossed in the many issues of the time, they were dependent on SUNY for funding and generally against the military.
When UB's next President arrived with youthful ambition but none of the power that Furnas possessed as President, the rift between the two sides of UB grew bigger.
President Martin Meyerson came to UB from Berkeley with the goal of making UB the "Berkeley of the East." In theory, Meyerson was the man to continue Furnas' vision, in practice, he lacked the credibility to enact change. Medical and Engineering faculty revolted, finally able to voice their opposition to SUNY and Liberal Arts. As a compromise, Meyerson finally allowed UB to start working on military projects. In 1967, UB accepted a 1.2 million dollar Themis grant to conduct research on behalf of the Navy.
Meyerson could not catch a break during his tenure, even issues that had nothing to do with UB eventually affected UB. One such incident occurred in the final week of June in 1967, the Buffalo Riots. The riots were a result of growing racial tensions in Buffalo, a city that experienced an increase in the Black population, but experienced no sign of economic growth or opportunity for Blacks in Buffalo.
The Riots helped substantiate fears about Blacks and encouraged suburban flight. It also empowered the Buffalo Police to use aggressive, often violent action against any act that could be interpreted as incitement. This clashed with UB's students, increasingly liberal and since joining the SUNY system, increasingly populated by downstaters, who sided with Black Buffalonians against racism and police brutality in Buffalo.
On November 10, 1967, five months before his assassination, the UB Graduate Student Association hosted Martin Luther King at Kleinhans Music Hall. In the wake of the Riots and the unpopularity of civil rights in Buffalo, the support of civil rights began to strain the relationship between UB students and the Buffalo community.
On campus, more students were involved with anti-war movements as the liberal presence on campus continued to grow. Some students against the war in Vietnam were particularly upset at UB's newly established involvement in military research. After peaceful protests proved ineffective, some students turned to violence and vandalism. In December of 1967, students caused $200,000 worth of damage to the Themis project. The vandalism in the eyes of the Buffalo community painted UB students as outsiders creating trouble, warping the minds of their good kids, and ultimately destroying Buffalo's way of life.
Unable to enact the change he desired, Meyerson resigned as President. He went on to become President at the University of Pennsylvania where he was able to establish programs for ethnic and gender diversity. Like Furnas, Meyerson left the campus in a precarious position, Furnas left a contentious rift in the faculty, Meyerson left an increasingly vocal student body. Meyerson promoted free speech and activism at Buffalo, he thought a healthy amount of expression would add to the educational experience. His successor, Acting President Peter F. Regan, did not appreciate the value of expression like Meyerson. Regan worked at the Medical School and represented the interests of the conservative faculty at Buffalo.
As Regan took office, the University of Buffalo truly became the University at Buffalo; it was in Buffalo, but it did not really represent the city. Buffalonians saw the University as radical outsiders who turned the University into a war zone. Students saw Buffalonians as ignorant, intolerant and racist. Buffalo needed someone to repair the damage of the 60's and not take sides. Regan was not that man. Regan took office four days before Woodstock, on August 11, 1969. His first big test came 3 months later.
Black members of the UB Basketball team accused coach Len Serfustini (a UB Athletic Hall of Famer) of stranding Black players in Binghamton after a game telling them to hitchhike back to Buffalo, among other discriminatory acts. Eight Black basketball players boycotted practice during the 1970 season. The basketball team demanded some Black coaches be hired and that financial promises would be fulfilled. Regan initially ignored the boycott, which was ironic because UB sacrificed the Tangerine Bowl 12 years earlier to combat discrimination, and they had just hired the first Black hockey coach in college history, Ed Wright.
The boycott lasted all season, and it gained traction with students, Black and white, who fought for civil rights. On February 24th, UB's basketall game against Stony Brook was cancelled due to a sit in at Clark Gym. President Regan called the Buffalo Police to monitor the campus and prevent any major disruption.
On February 25th, UB's Black basketball players met with president Regan. They agreed to cancel the varsity game that night against Albany, however the freshmen team game against NCCC went on as planned. Campus police was present for the entire game, which angered the students. The students marched on Regan's office at Hayes Hall where the President and the athletes were making good initial progress. When a rock was thrown through Regan's window, Regan sent campus police to the Student Union to arrest the window breakers. Students resisted and assaulted the Campus Police,and as a result the administration called again on the Buffalo Police to monitor the campus. The Buffalo Police arrived in riot gear and entered the Union, by the end of the altercation, 27 students were admitted to the hospital.
For the month of March, Buffalo Police occupied the University and students went on strike. Violence could strike at any moment. On March 13, a student-police confrontation sent twenty more students to the hospital. Meanwhile, President Regan denied the use of tear gas or force, and ignored the demands of students publicly, instead condemning students for the damage they caused. Two days later, professors conducted a sit-in with the goal of getting face time with President Regan, instead they received face time with the Buffalo Police. 45 faculty members were arrested for causing a disruption. They were each found guilty and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
A month into the police occupation, Regan sent the police home and the campus normalized after spring break. Regan announced that he would resign his Acting President post in August. Then Kent State happened. On May 4th, 1970, four students protesters were killed at Kent State and 9 others were wounded. The National tragedy sparked a whole new set of protests at UB, the police responded with tear gas, pepper spray and shooting birdshot into crowds.
On July 1st, Dr. Robert Ketter, Dean of the Graduate School became the new University President. The new year brought a fresh start after a semester of upheaval. However there would be no fresh start for UB Football.
This is the football story.
Buffalo football had a window. The Offenhamer era, the move to Division 1 and the support of Presidents who wanted to put UB on the same level athletically and academically as Berkeley and Michigan. In the 14 years before the unrest, UB Football went 30 games over .500, with only 1 losing season. UB recruited the best freshman class in school history, and the Frosh Football team went undefeated in 1970. The team had future games scheduled with the top schools in the East, Offenhamer's dream of an annual series with Syracuse seemed likely.
Between World War II and the end of the UB Football program, 6 coaches, Bob Deming, Doc Urich, Dick Offenhamer, Fritz Febel, Frank Clair and Jim Peele, led UB to a 124-94-7 record over the course of 25 years. UB enjoyed three 8 win seasons, five 7+ win seasons, ten 6+ win seasons, and sixteen 5+ win seasons. To put that in perspective it took 35 years for UB to surpass the win total of the 3rd era, UB is 128-256-1 since returning to football.
Despite a quarter century of success and the ascension to the highest level of the game, attendance suffered. The growing unrest and unpopularity of UB in the city of Buffalo was a cause of this in some aspects. In another, UB could be seen as a victim of the suburbanization of the city and the increased crime in Buffalo. For one reason or another, UB was winning but attendance was dropping.
The window was closing fast. As UB faced turmoil, lack of leadership and a loss of support from students and the community, they also faced a budget issue. An unintended consequence of joining SUNY was losing autonomy on tuition. SUNY demanded that UB no longer offer athletic aid. The Basketball program survived at a minor level, Varsity Hockey survived for another decade thanks to foreign student tuition waivers for Canadian Hockey athletes. Football meanwhile would have to get major contributions, or drop back down to a lower level where they could compete without scholarships or tuition waivers.
If winning solves everything, the team did nothing to help the situation in 1970. The Bulls played a very modern-day MAC schedule, with modern-day MAC results, opening with two lossess at home against Ball State and Toledo and a third loss at Kent State before finally getting a win over UMass. After a fourth home loss against Villanova, UB would finish the season with 5 of 6 games on the road.
While the Bulls were out of town, the city was free to fully embrace the Sabres and the Braves at the Memorial Auditorium. On October 14, 1970 the expanded Aud hosted the inaugural home game for the Buffalo Braves, who defeated the Cleveland Caviliers 107-92. The next day marked the inaugural home game for the Buffalo Sabres who tied the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-1.
The 1-6 Bulls returned to Buffalo for the final time to face Holy Cross in a regionally televised ABC game, a first for UB. The Bulls finally helped their cause with a win, but student activism marred what should have been a defining moment.
October 31, 1970 - Buffalo 16, Holy Cross 0 - Last home game, last win of UB's third era, ABC regionally televised game.
Back before the major schools sued for the rights to put 100 games on TV at any day of the week, before Tuesday Night MACtion, only a few games were ever seen on TV. On Haloween, Buffalo shared the stage with South Carolina at Georgia and Nebraska at Colorado. After the UB game, ABC showed Berekely against USC.
This game is not known for being on TV or being an easy UB win, instead it is known for the halftime show "Give Peace a Chance." After the Kent State shootings, the NCAA met with ABC and the companies agreed not to show student activism, they did not want to encourage the behavior at NCAA events.
The student unrest that started on a Basketball Court now spilled over to the Football Field. Universities normally looked for exposure, but now exposure was a bad thing, the student's could not be controlled, so the increased exposure exposed UB's dirty laundry to the world.
November 21, 1970 - Buffalo 21, Northern Illinois 43 - Last game of UB's 3rd era a loss to Doc Urich's Huskies:
The matchup against former UB coach Doc Urich would be the last game for Coach Deming, the last NIU game for Coach Urich and the last UB game for 7 years. Just four years earlier, Urich was chosen as the golden boy replacement for Offenhamer, but now he was the harbinger of death to the program.
Diehard Bulls fans were optimistic after the 1970 campaign because the freshmen would join the varsity team in 1971 and infuse the team with talent. Before that could happen, on January 18, 1971, without warning, the football team would dropped.
October 8, 1977 - Buffalo 7, RIT 7 - UB Football Returns, the 4th Era of UB football (1977-present)
September 23, 1978 - Buffalo 35, Brockport 31 - UB Football's first win in almost 8 years
When UB football was dropped, Bill Dando, the linebackers coach, was working on the 1971 recruiting class. Dando stayed to watch his players and recruits disperse and the dissipation of all the positive momentum of UB football. In 1977, Dando was rewarded for his patience and loyalty, with the opportunity to lead the Bulls back onto the field, albiet it at the D-III level. After tying RIT in the first game back, UB would have to wait a year to taste victory, over SUNY Brockport. The win broke a 9 game winless streak that spanned almost 8 years.
Dando would go on to become the winniest coach in UB history, winning his UB record 59th game in the final home game during his final season in 1989. Since returning to football, UB has only 128 wins in 35 years, 49 of those wins are Dando's over his 13 year stint as coach. Dando helped slowly build up UB with a 55% winning percentage at home and excelled in 1983 and 1986 winning 8 and 9 games in those seasons.
Dando started with a Division-I team, but found himself inheriting a Division-3 team. He like the legendary coach he surpassed, Dick Offenahmer, oversaw the process of moving the team back to Division-I, and without him, UB wouldn't be where they are today.
Greatest UB Moment:
#95 - Drew Willy Can't Miss (5 votes)
#90 - Ed Ellis Breaks 34 Year Draft Drought (0 votes)
#88 - Two Bulls Selected in the 2008 NFL Draft (2 votes)
#80 - UB True Blue Created (1 vote)
#78 - Highest Attended Home Game of the 1900's (1 vote)
#10 - Under Duress& Underfunded, UB loses it's Autonomy, It's Football & It's Innocence (1 vote)
10 total votes