UB football pioneer Willie Evans dies

Jan 6, 2017

Willie Evans, a star runningback for the University at Buffalo's football team in the late 1950s, has died.

Evans and teammate Mike Wilson were the only African-American players on the Bulls roster in 1958, when the team was invited to play in the Tangerine Bowl.

Willie Evans (left) and Mike Wilson would have been banned from participating in the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando.
Credit University at Buffalo

However, the Florida stadium where the game was to be held prohibited blacks and whites from playing together. So the UB football team voted - unanimously - not to play.

Evans was 79 years old last October when he shared his tale for National Public Radio's StoryCorps at Buffalo's Canalside. He downplayed the importance of the vote when recalling an ABC television reporter coming to Buffalo.

"I asked, 'You don't have anything else to do? And they were here for a week interviewing and filming," Evans said. "During all the news interviews we had, I would always ask, 'What made us newsworthy?' And we were appearing on TV. You know, we had the documentary too, plus the screenplay."

Jay Friedman, Assistant Athletic Director for Engagement at UB, says Evans always downplayed that event and was generally a modest person. Friedman adds that Willie and his wife Bobbie Evans were regular attendees of various UB sports and also familiar faces at numerous other campus events:
 

Willie Evans being honored at the University at Buffalo in 2009.
Credit University at Buffalo

"They were both volunteers for the Alumni Association on many occasions," he said. "They volunteered for Career Conversations, which were opportunities for them to provide career advice and mentoring opportunities for students. They volunteered to participate in the freshmen move-in weekend, when the freshmen would move in on campus."

Evans was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. That same year, UB renamed its Legacy Scholarshp in his honor.