2013 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Editor’s Note: As the University at Buffalo Bulls football team played in Saturday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, I thought back to 2009 when I sat at Aunt Millie’s Restaurant in Silver Creek with George “Skip” Maue for more than two hours. Maue was a member of the 1958 UB team which declined an invitation to the Tangerine Bowl because two African American players were not allowed to participate. Maue passed away May 5, 2011. And though I can’t talk to him about this year’s Bulls team, he was in my thoughts Saturday. Following is the story which was published on Jan. 11, 2009.

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George “Skip” Maue signed 10 autographs in his four years as a football player for the University at Buffalo Bulls.

Fifty years later, Maue signed an estimated 100 autographs last weekend alone.

The Silver Creek resident could be seen walking around the Rogers Center last weekend as the 1958 Bulls team that he was a part of was finally recognized for a stand they took against discrimination.

In 1958, with the school’s first ever invite to a bowl game, the players respectfully declined an invitational to the Tangerine Bowl against Florida State due to restrictions that would not allow African Americans to play in the game.

With this year’s Bulls receiving an invite to the International Bowl against Connecticut at Toronto, the players from that ’58 team were invited to be part of the festivities since they were deprived of that honor 50 years ago.

“We were invited up to the Bowl game and were treated like royalty,” Maue said. “It was absolutely incredible. It was way, way, way beyond our expectations.”

More than a month ago, the story everyone has heard about was an afterthought. With the Bulls’ late-season success this year, the story became more and more known. Now, it’s been on ESPN, ABC and a several other television networks.

Maue, who was a sophomore running back in 1958, sees this year’s team as destiny. After a team declined the opportunity to play in a bowl game because two African American players were on the roster, it was an African American head coach that led the Bulls to their first bowl game.

“It wasn’t just fitting, it was almost a miracle how everything came together,” said Maue, who later coached at Lake Shore for nearly 20 years with only one losing season. “All the stars lined up or it probably wouldn’t have been nowhere big as it was. Had it been 48 years ago and they played this two years ago, it would not have got as much attention. It just happened to be a half century later. Everything fell into place.”

Before the International Bowl in Toronto, members of the 1958 team were able to walk the field and mingle with the current players. Maue got a “rude awakening” to how the game has changed with the size of the players since his days as a collegiate player.

“We were meeting the younger players,” Maue continued, “We were mingling with them and they were great coming over and talking to us. I spot this one guy about my size and I say, ‘Hey, how much do you weigh?’ He says about 170. That’s about what I weighed. I said, ‘There’s still a place in football for the little guy.’ I am shaking his hand patting him on the back. The guys are snickering a little bit and he was sheepish. And he said, ‘Well, I am the kicker.'”

Another difference was the number of bowl games being played. This year alone, there were 33 bowl games. In 1958, teams had to be almost perfect to be considered for an invite.

With an 8-1 record, members of the Bulls team were ecstatic when they heard they were going to be going to the Tangerine Bowl in Florida.

However, the excitement quickly turned into frustration when news got back to the team that the Bulls could compete, as long as they “left the black kids home.”

“We got together in an old gym – a dungy little room,” Maue said. “The coaches told us what the situation was. There were stacks of paper ballots. There was going to be a vote.

“There are some that thought coach (Dick Offenhafer) really wanted to go. That’s why we even had the vote. Some coaches would say ‘heck no’. But the fact there was a vote leads you to believe someone wanted to go. There is a story out there, I heard Willie Evans (an African American standout for the Bulls) offered to stay home. No one would hear him. Some thought ‘if Willie isn’t going, I am not going.'”

After the vote came back rejecting the invite, local reaction was in favor of the players’ decision and the media hype lasted only a few days.

“There were articles in the paper for two or three days,” Maue recalls. “There was strong local reaction in favor of us. The fan’s reaction was always favorable. It was always a strong reaction in our favor. After a few days, it died down. It didn’t drag on for months and months. It received three days then. Now it’s receiving all sorts of recognition. After that period was over, we never thought about it – until now.”

With an invite to the school’s first bowl game in history, the thought of making school history never crossed the players’ minds. They were intent on doing what was right.

On Saturday, Jan. 3 before the International Bowl, 25 players from that 1958 team walked onto the field wearing UB jerseys and received the entrance they had waited 50 years to receive.

“It was absolutely overwhelming,” Maue said. “It was the biggest roar I have ever heard in all the years playing. When they introduced us, it was huge. My heart started beating. Everything that happened was so unexpected. It never happened to us before. The ovation was huge. It rattled the place.”

Maue and his former teammates used the weekend trip in Toronto as a chance to reunite. Maue was able to get back in touch with his roommate and fellow teammate Tom MacDougall.

“I hadn’t seen him in 48 years and we spent the whole weekend together,” Maue said. “We have made plans now to stay in better touch. It has brought everybody back together.”