One of my best friends growing up attended three very different schools. Undergrad at Notre Dame, Graduate degree at Stanford, and Doctorate at Princeton. I was always jealous when he'd have some cool t-shirt on that was given to students (mostly when Notre Dame was beating USC - sorry Conrad!). It was not just the shirts. It was the memories, the excitement that each contest brought, but more importantly it was the connection with the school.
I attended UB in the early 90's. (OK, enough with the old jokes.) UB was a cold and barren school. I came to play hockey but the athletic department crumbled and I also joined a fraternity. For many at that time, UB was a chunk of their lives to never look back upon. Unlike them, I did not want to just go to class and come home, but there weren't many opportunities then.
The old saying is, you get out what you put in. You can use that saying as well for building relationships or social interaction in Amherst. The problem the school used to have was you usually only ran in the circles of your major. UB did very little to collide different social worlds together. I was jealous of my Notre Dame-Stanford-Princeton friend with the people that he met, the adventures they went on, the school-sponsored activities and the alumni-driven events.
I get blowback every time I say this, but when you get to my age, you remember the people in college and not the great Intro to Anthropology class in Knox Hall that blew your socks off. My friend met his wife at a Notre Dame football game. His wife went to St. Mary's College, a private sister school to Notre Dame. They would have never met without connecting before a football game.
I understand the barrier of creating an athletic culture at UB that connects with students and the community. There's little history compared to even our MAC peers, relatively little on-field success, and a perception of substandard facilities.
None of that mattered Saturday night.
I went to my first basketball game in perhaps a decade. Now I know, shame on me for staying away. On the way, I thought, "Ten PM game with a team that's right now inconsistent. I hope we don't embarrass ourselves on National TV."
I am the one who should be embarrassed. The students packed the arena. Both ends of the court were filled to the brim as well as incredibly the top corners. The student section single handily pushed the Bulls to dominate Kent. After a very slow start for the Bulls (Can someone please explain to me why Kent didn't just feed the ball inside all night?) it turned into a rout. This UB-Kent massacre now ranks up with Naaman's Hail Mary pass as my favorite UB athletic experience. This coming from the same person who said, "Any sport that you leave to take a bathroom break and miss 10 points is not a real sport!"
Did it help that UB killed Kent and the dunks were incredible? Absolutely. But what made the basketball game so special for me was the student section. Over the years I've grown apathetic to support for Buffalo Athletics. I remember a home and home series against Penn State when I played hockey for UB. In Penn State, the place was jammed packed. Maybe 7K to 8K fans who were vocal and smart. The crowd totally intimidated us to start the game. After we went down early, the crowd starting chanting, "STEVE STARTS TOMORROW!" Steve was the backup goalie and I remember like yesterday putting my head down to not get caught laughing.
Fast forward to when Penn State came to town. We have maybe 250 in stands. Mostly parents, girlfriends, and fraternity brothers. This is my paradigm. This is what I know. Shame on me again for not knowing the passion in the current student base. Even if for one game, it's still something huge to build from.
What I saw is a glimpse of what UB could be - no, more importantly - what UB has to be. I have harped long enough on the alumni for the past decades who have little to no connection back to the school beyond the line on their resume. UB missed a giant opportunity then but isn't making that mistake now. What I saw Friday night was students who could not be having a better time, a connection with each other, a sense of school pride, and making UB look incredible on national TV.
Our very own Tim tweeted this out:
ok UB students you can make what happened tonight the new normal at Alumni. Do a better job than us older folks did!— Tim Riordan (@BullRun_Tim) January 31, 2015
I could not agree more. That being said, you need to create an environment to draw a crowd. Just because you go to UB does not mean you have to attend every event. I see great strides with the athletic department (I will save the NYBI for another time; that's a separate debate!). Friday I saw the future of Buffalo athletics. I saw something that I have never seen at UB except for the International Bowl. Bobby Hurley, please take UB to the Big Dance. Bring back more alumni and local support. I saw a student section who wanted to be at a game. I loved every second of the game and want to thank every student for making the night magical.
That being said, the atmosphere will be controlled by the student section. It is up to the student base to leave a legacy of attendance and engagement. The game over the weekend, amazing. Do I expect every game to be like that? No. What I do expect is for many to be just like that. You pushed your team to blow out another MAC team, to blow out the first-place team. You saw just how exciting the team can be, and you helped them become that. You should have walked out of Alumni proud of yourself and proud to be a student at UB.
I hope you did, because that pride, at that level, has not been on campus more than once or twice in decades. It is back. You are bringing it back.