Published January 5, 2017
UB alumnus Willie Evans, a standout running back for the UB football team and former president of the UB Alumni Association, died Jan. 4 at the age of 79. Evans was the Bulls’ leading rusher every season from 1957 to 1959 and was a key member of UB’s 1958 Lambert Cup winning team.
Actively involved at UB throughout his life, Evans was inducted into the UB Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978. He was a longstanding board member of the Alumni Association, a generous donor to the university and served on numerous committees across campus. Rarely was there a UB athletic event he and his wife, Bobbie, didn’t attend.
“The entire UB family is deeply saddened by the passing of Willie Evans,” UB Director of Athletics Allen Greene said. “He meant so much to UB, not only as a student-athlete, but as an ambassador of the university and the city he loved. His historical significance to the university will stand as a lasting legacy, one that is intensely personal and genuine. His presence at sporting events will be greatly missed. We extend our condolences to the entire Evans family.”
A scholarship established by the UB Alumni Association in 2007 was renamed in honor of Evans in 2009. The Willie R. Evans UB Alumni Association Legacy Scholarship assists UB students who are children or grandchildren of UB alumni who contribute to the growth and enrichment of the university through active membership and participation in the Alumni Association.
Evans graduated from UB in 1960 with a degree in physical education and earned a master’s degree from SUNY Buffalo State in 1988.
He will be remembered with pride for his role in UB’s 1958 football campaign. Following an 8-1 regular season, the Bulls were honored on “The Ed Sullivan Show” because they won the Lambert Cup — a trophy given to the best small school program in the East. The honor came with an invitation to play Florida State in the Tangerine Bowl — UB’s first bowl invitation. However, in a time of civil rights unrest, the invitation came with one condition: that Evans and fellow African-American Mike Wilson not attend the game. At the time, the Orlando High School Athletic Association, which hosted the Tangerine Bowl, prohibited interracial teams.
Without hesitation, the team unanimously voted not to play the game, refusing to leave their teammates behind. The ordeal was profiled by a number of national media outlets, including ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
Evans, with fellow members of the 1958 football team, received the Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal, UB’s highest award, in 2009. The Norton medal is presented annually in public recognition of a person who has “performed some great thing which is identified with Buffalo … a great civic or political act, a great book, a great work of art, a great scientific achievement or any other thing which, in itself, is truly great and ennobling, and which dignifies the performer and Buffalo in the eyes of the world.”
Evans finished his career ranked ninth in school history in rushing with 1,559 yards. His 6.36 yards-per-carry career average still stands as a school record. He rushed for 530 yards on only 70 carries in 1958 and 620 yards on 92 carries in 1959 to help lead the Bulls to an 8-1 record both seasons.
Born and raised in Buffalo, Evans was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
Other UB honors earned by Evans included the Community Leadership Medal, Distinguished Alumni Award and the Russell J. Gugino Award.
Willie Evans was one of the most amazing human beings I have ever met. When he served as athletic director for the Buffalo Public Schools, he granted my production company, Duane W.A.N.E. Sports, TV broadcast rights to air high school football and basketball games back in 1989. The Harvard Cup and Yale Cup "Game of the Week" was born and that act of kindness spawned a sports broadcasting career that I am proud to say I'm still actively involved in as a sports talk show host.
Mr. Evans was truly an inspiration to me and although he will be missed, his UB legacy is forever entrenched within the university's history! I am eternally grateful and appreciative to Mr. Willie R. Evans.
Condolences to his lovely wife, Roberta, and remaining family members, including Alan and Neal, who I had the great pleasure of managing early in their music careers.
Duane Walker, UB Class of 1988