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Evans starred in three sports UB running back on historic team

The fifth in a series looking at the Class of 2009, scheduled< for induction on Oct. 29 at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.

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When Willie Evans put his best foot forward, he was usually already strides ahead of his opponent.

Former University at Buffalo defense tackle Jack "Bear" Dempsey recalled a game against Baldwin-Wallace College when Evans, the team's starting halfback, disappeared under a heap of defenders 2 yards from the line of scrimmage.

Dempsey waited for the whistle. It blew seconds later after Evans shot out of the pack and scored a touchdown.

Evans had an outstanding track and field career in the Buffalo high schools where he also excelled in basketball. At the time, football wasn't offered at Emerson Vocational, but his athleticism garnered a scholarship to play football at UB.

During his freshman campaign, Evans clocked just 3 minutes and 41 seconds of playing time. But as a junior, he was named Western New York's outstanding athlete, and, by the end of his college career, he had amassed 1,559 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns for UB.

Evans was also drafted to the Buffalo Bills in the team's inaugural season. But history has focused on the game he never played.

The 1958 Bulls won the Lambert Cup as the top small college team in the East, and received an invitation to the Tangerine Bowl. The Orlando High School Athletic Association, which held the lease on the stadium, prohibited blacks and whites from playing together.

Everybody on the team received a ballot and an explanation. They could vote to leave two African-American teammates, reserve defensive end Mike Wilson and Evans, behind, or decline the invitation.

The decision that day reverberates more than 50 years later, though the details have evaded Evans' memory. But Dempsey recalls the day vividly.

The meeting in Clark Gymnasium lasted about the length of Evans' freshman campaign. Not a vote was cast.

"It was like, 'Why don't we leave the Italians home? The Germans?' Dempsey recalled saying. "It wasn't heart and flowers. It was just wrong."

In less than four minutes, Dempsey was walking out the door. He went to Brunner's Tavern in Eggertsville to get a beer and anybody was welcome to join him.

"It was a great disappointment," Dempsey said. "But we never looked back."

Evans went on teach for more than 30 years and served as the director of physical education for Buffalo Public Schools. He has remained heavily involved with the UB Alumni Association and his alma mater's athletics for more than 30 years.

For 48 years, players from the '58 team have met at Brunner's during Homecoming Weekend. The day the votes were never cast never came up.

"We didn't muse over that at all," Evans said. "It wasn't something we discussed. It was something we did. Then we moved on with our lives."

The details are fuzzy, but as far as he is concerned, they aren't important. He knows that his legacy on the field includes the 1958 Bulls walking away from it.

"What I remember is that my teammates put their best foot forward," he said. "That was that."

For ticket information e-mail: melissa.gearhart@hyatt.com or call Gearhart at 855-4863 or visit: www.GBSHOF.com.

e-mail: akim@buffnews.com

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