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In sports, not much substitutes for winning. Nevertheless, University at Buffalo football players, coaches and fans, disappointed with Saturday's 17-10 loss to Akron, might take some solace in these words from M.H. Alderson: "If at first you don't succeed, you are running about average."

In UB's case, it might be a bit better than average.

In their first game as a Division I-A team in 29 years, the Bulls put on a more-than-respectable show in their Mid-American Conference loss. Many had expected Akron to put up numbers more resembling a basketball score against a UB squad that was led by a quarterback who a few weeks ago was number three on the depth chart.

But if the team lost on the field, the university can claim a partial victory in the stands. More than 20,000 people -- including about 15,500 paying customers -- turned out for UB's return to big-time college football.

And make no mistake, UB is fighting to win a place in the hearts of Western New York's sports fans as much as it's battling to chalk up victories on the field. And the hard truth is, one is inextricably linked to the other.

Another hard truth is that it is extremely unlikely that any team moving up from Division I-AA to Division I-A is going to enjoy overwhelming success on the field right away. But to the extent that UB can eke out a few victories, and remain competitive in the defeats that surely will come during the painful growing process, it will begin to build a fan base that will make it a focal point for area sports fans.

We hope the 20,000 fans who came out for the opener return, and that another 10,000 area football fans join them at the newly expanded UB stadium. Autumn weekends that already carry the excitement of professional football will be made that much more exhilarating with a vibrant I-A college program. The team took a strong first step toward building that kind of program with its performance Saturday.

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