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Sacrifice of '58 UB team will be told in documentary ; Team members get preview of film

It's been quite a ride for the 1958 University of Buffalo football team and with the help from local film producer Peter Johnson, it could last a little while longer.

Johnson is producing a documentary called "Together We Stand: The Story of the 1958 UB Bulls." Johnson showed footage of his project Wednesday morning at The Mid Day Club of Buffalo and was joined by Willie Evans, Phil Bamford, Dick Van Valkenburgh and Dr. Charles Tirone, four players from the '58 team.

Johnson began work on the project last December and it's scheduled for release in September.

The Bulls went 8-1 and won the Lambert Trophy -- awarded to the top team of the Eastern small colleges -- and were invited to play in the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Fla. the school's first bowl invitation. However, there was a rule that African-Americans and whites could not play on the same field at the same time, meaning Evans and Mike Wilson, both African-American, could not play in the game. The team met and decided not to attend the game.

"If we had gone to the bowl and won, nobody would know about us," Bamford said. "We'd just be bowl winners."

In 2008 the Bulls won the Mid-American Conference championship and were invited to the International Bowl in Toronto. The '58 team was also invited for the experience and was praised by Jesse Jackson. The story went national and intrigued people like Johnson.

"Back then, I was just into acting," said Johnson, who started a casting and film company last year. "But I was thinking, 'Man, this would be a great story if someone were to make into a film.' "

Although he returned to acting, a seed was planted in Johnson. A ball of energy who always acts like he drinks a gallon of Red Bull before dawn, Johnson put up roughly $10,000 to get the documentary completed.

"A lot of filmmakers prolong things because they don't want to put up their own money," he said. "I'm a believer that you have to invest in yourself. One of the things about me is I don't like procrastination and me waiting for someone to see my dream and put up their money I was like, 'No, I'll put up the money myself.' "

Johnson contacted UB who put him in contact with Evans, who in turn put him in contact with more players.

"I was looking for a project that would intrigue people, that would educate people and take them up and down emotionally," Johnson said. "Hearing their story had all the perfect elements that I've been looking for: The emotional aspect, the aspect of civil rights, the aspect of team camaraderie. Everyone loves a sports film."

A Buffalo native, Johnson, 29, graduated from St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in 1998 and later graduated from New York Film Academy where he earned a film degree. He's currently pursuing a business degree in arts management from Empire State College.

Once the project was green-lighted by the team, one the challenges for Johnson was gathering footage from more than 50 years ago.

"Back then there wasn't the technology that we have today, so I had to get archived footage," he said. "I had to go to the historical museum and get pictures and things of that sort. Being from that era, there isn't much material to work with."

Johnson was able to accumulate at least four full-length games of footage.

"Of course it's black and white and a lot different from what we have today and there's really no close-up shots," Johnson said. "But it does capture the era, the fans, the cheerleaders and the team which is the most important thing."

Evans, nevertheless, has five scrapbooks from the season and turned out to be one of Johnson's best sources for information.

"It's 50 years old," Johnson said of the scrapbooks. "It's newspaper articles and different pictures and that was a tremendous help because otherwise I don't think I would have been able to find this stuff because it's not archived anywhere."

Johnson hopes the project will enhance his career goals which include acting and directing in major motion pictures.

"I'm hoping this will spin into bigger and better projects," Johnson said.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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