The epic tale of the bowl-bound 1958 Buffalo team was one of the most prominent storylines during last year’s college football postseason, when the present-day Mid-American Conference champion Bulls received their first bowl bid since that 1958 season, on their milestone 50th anniversary. Approximately 23 members of that 1958 squad, plus spouses and families, were feted during Buffalo’s stay in Toronto for the ESPN-televised International Bow,l where the Bulls faced the University of Connecticut.
The 1958 Buffalo team, whose roster contained two African-American players, Willie Evans and the late Mike Wilson, was invited to play in the 1958 Tangerine Bowl, organized by the Elks Lodge. The use of the stadium was controlled by the now defunct Orlando High School Athletics Association, who maintained a policy banning interracial events. In a show of solidarity for their Evans and Wilson, the entire Buffalo squad, which also included a young Gerry Gergley, voted to not play in the bowl game.
Gergley was an early pioneer of the UCF athletics program, starting both the varsity wrestling and golf teams during his tenure, while also serving as UCF’s first strength coach. Most notably, Gergley was integral figure in forming UCF’s first football team along with the late Dr. Jack O’Leary, the school’s director of athletics at the time. He was later inducted into the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003, and is still active today attending UCF events in Orlando.
The concept of honoring the 1958 Buffalo team began in the Office of the Mayor for Orange County, Richard Crotty, a 1972 UCF graduate, who reached out to both UCF Athletics and Florida Citrus Sports on the idea. All three parties were in unanimous agreement this was the right thing to do to celebrate Buffalo’s visit to Orlando so soon after the 50th anniversary of their first bowl bid. To follow, Buffalo’s athletics administration was engaged, who also firmly believed in the action, to speak with the 1958 squad on the proposal. The response came with unanimous excitement from the 1958 team, who are thrilled that their story is still one that touches the community and to be able to finally come to Orlando as a team.
The ability to stage this landmark recognition on Sept. 19 at UCF’s Bright House Networks Stadium would not have occurred without the generosity of Air Tran, Loews’ Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando and the Central Florida Hotel Lodging Association.
Members of the historic 1958 University at Buffalo football team will be in attendance Saturday, Sept. 19, at Bright House Networks Stadium to be honored at halftime during the UCF football game versus the current Buffalo squad.
What they are saying…
Willie Evans, University at Buffalo 1958 Team: “We appreciate the fact that there is interest in our story and that we are going to be honored at the game. More importantly, it gives us an opportunity to get together as a team one more time and we are grateful for that.”
Gerry Gergley, University at Buffalo 1958 Team: “After 50 years, they are bringing us back to Orlando, where the Tangerine Bowl was played. We were very disappointed not to be able to come. I remember the weather in Buffalo was not too good that time of year, and we missed being in the sunshine. I worked at UCF since 1970, and there were so many times when we were playing football there, I couldn’t help to think what could have been if we had the chance to play Florida State back in 1958. I know our whole team is so thankful to everyone who made this possible. It is unbelievable that this is happening.”
Richard Crotty, Mayor of Orange County: “When I heard the story of the 1958 football team, I wanted those men to know that Orlando has come a long way in fifty years. That the Bulls just happen to be playing UCF this fall gives us the perfect opportunity to create a memorable weekend for the entire University at Buffalo football family.”
Steve Hogan, Florida Citrus Sports CEO: “It is with great pride that we finally get the chance to host the 1958 team here in Orlando as we intended to over 50 years ago. Several years later the Tangerine Bowl successfully became the first NCAA licensed bowl game to host an HBCU team, Morgan State, and the courage demonstrated by the ’58 Buffalo team played a very positive role in changing Orlando’s future. We are truly honored to partner with Mayor Crotty, UCF, and other community leaders to make this trip to Orlando a reality. “
Keith Tribble, University of Central Florida Director of Athletics: “Having the 1958 Buffalo team return to Orlando and the UCF campus for this amazing event is something we aren’t taking lightly. While bowl berths usually come with joy and adulation, these men were forced to endure an unfortunate set of circumstances 50 years ago. We’ve put together a real special weekend for the team culminating with their recognition during halftime of our football game. I’m proud of our University, Mayor Crotty, Florida Citrus Sports and the other community partners who came to together for this event.”
Warde Manuel, University at Buffalo Director of Athletics: “Having our 1958 football team honored this way in Orlando is the final chapter in a story of courage, humility and redemption. I couldn’t be happier that so many people in the Orlando area from the Mayor’s office, Florida Citrus Sports and the administration at UCF have stepped up to make this a reality and allow this terrific team to experience a trip they should have rightfully made just over 50 years ago.”
George O’Leary, University of Central Florida Head Football Coach: “Those men were supposed to play in a great football game 50 years ago as a reward for remarkable season and did not get that opportunity to do so as a full team. I’m proud of our Mayor, UCF and Florida Citrus Sports for inviting this team back to Orlando and to our game.”
Turner Gill, University at Buffalo Head Football Coach: “I am tremendously excited that the members of the ’58 football team will be a part of our game at UCF. The members of that team have become like family for our football staff and team, and we are thrilled that they have been given this opportunity by the Mayor of Orange County, the UCF administration and Florida Citrus Sports.”
Tad Hutcheson, VP Marketing and Sales AirTran Airways: “AirTran Airways is proud to be involved in honoring the 1958 University at Buffalo football team. The lesson they taught us more than 50 years ago is still a powerful one today. This is a fitting tribute to the team and an opportunity to share their story with a new generation.”
Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association: The Central Florida Lodging community welcomes the players from the 1958 University at Buffalo football team. The hotel association is a proud partner of this endeavor – and wishes all participants an enjoyable experience.
Dave Bartek, General Manager, Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando: “We are delighted to be hosting the members of the 1958 University at Buffalo football team because we believe so strongly in being a good neighbor in our community. All of us will ensure they enjoy the gracious and warm hospitality that Orlando is known for.”