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99 for 99 - #50 - Exposition City and the Michigan Debacle

Things killed in 1901: William McKinley (pictured), Columbia's Title Hopes, Buffalo's College Football Fever. via <a href=""></a>
Things killed in 1901: William McKinley (pictured), Columbia's Title Hopes, Buffalo's College Football Fever. via

99 for 99 takes a look at the 99 biggest moments in UB Football history in anticipation of the 99th Season of UB Football which begins on September 1st, 2012. These moments are not in any order, however the top 10 moments have been saved for last.

September 6, 1901 - President McKinley is shot at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.

The five-month 1901 Pan-American Exposition was the crowning moment of Buffalo as a city. However it was spoiled on September 6th when Leon Czolgosz shot William McKinley, the 25th US President. McKinley died eight days later on September 14th and Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as the 26th US President at the Ansley Wilcox Mansion in Buffalo.

September 28, 1901 - Buffalo 5, Columbia 0 - Buffalo upsets the Mighty Lions.

14 days later, the 1-1 Bison played Columbia and they looked to provide some much needed distraction and cheer.

A few yards northeast of the Temple of Music where McKinley was shot and in the shadow of the iconic Electric Tower, Buffalo played their home games in a 12,000 seat stadium built for the exposition. The U-shaped stadium sat between Elmwood and Delaware with the open end of the stadium on the edge of Delaware avenue.

Buffalo was expected to lose. Bets were placed, not on which team would win, but on if Buffalo would score. Columbia was 16-6 in their previous two seasons and had another strong team in 1901, finishing 8-5. However, Buffalo came out strong, kicked a field goal from thirty-yards out, (which counted for 5 points) and then shut out Columbia to provide a defining athletic performance for the Bison at the Exposition.

October 26, 1901 - Buffalo 0, Michigan 128 - Yost's Scoring Machine Breaks Buffalo Football.

Including the Columbia game, Buffalo won 4 straight games and did not surrender a single point. They headed to Regents Field in Ann Arbor to face the 4-0 Michigan Wolverines who had at that point outscored their opponents 174-0, including a 55-0 victory over a Case Western Reserve, the only team at that time to beat Buffalo, doing so by a score of 17-6.

Michigan was playing well, but they were still a relatively new program out west. Fielding Yost was the coach in his first year in Ann Arbor after a year where he coached Stanford and San Jose State. Yost brought with him powerhouse halfback Willie Heston, who was in his 4th year of college football, and who would go on to play another 3 years at Michigan. Buffalo meanwhile was basking in the media attention after the Columbia victory. Nicknamed the boys from Exposition City, Buffalo was predicted to defeat the start-ups from Ann Arbor.

Buffalo started strong, drove to the 25 and attempted a field goal that was no good. It would be the last positive thing they did all day. It took seven minutes for Michigan to break UB's four-game shutout streak, then the floodgates opened. 7 Michigan Men scored 22 touchdowns in the game. In a time before substitutions were allowed, referees allowed Buffalo defenders to sub in and out of the game, because they were too winded to play otherwise. Ultimately the game was cut short by 15 minutes because the Buffalo team was physically unable to play any longer.

The game was seen as the 3rd most lopsided game to date, after a 162-0 win by the Stevens Institute over College of the City of New York in 1885 and a 158-0 Harvard win over Exeter in 1886. It is mercifully still the most lopsided loss in UB history.

Buffalo's Coach Turk Gordon* called Michigan the best team in the country, and he was right. Michigan went 11-0, won the Rose Bowl against Stanford and a share of the National Championship with Harvard and Yale (who lost to Harvard that year so I certainly hope they don't claim it). Michigan also outscored their eleven opponents by a score of 555-0. So while UB's loss was embarrassing, it was definitely understandable, the 1901 Michigan team was a force.

The game can be seen as the symbolic end of the first era of UB football. Buffalo was 23-5-6 all-time and earned support of the public and the media before the Michigan game. After the Michigan game, any thought that UB could hang with the elite teams was lost. Buffalo would go 5-8-1 including and after the Michigan game and then stop playing football for 11 years.

*No record of Coach Gordon in the UB record books, but he is named as coach in a Chicago Daily Tribune article and a Buffalo Evening News archive found here: Alternatively the New York Times refers to a Coach Brown as head of the UB football program.