My top-5 greatest sports moments at UB
I spent my first four semesters at UB like any other Bulls fan. I spent fall Saturdays, when it was warm at least, waking up groggy at noon, recovering (in a way) from the night before and drinking a ‘Gatorade’ on my way from South to North Campus.
My last five semesters have been a little different. I’ve had to trade in my fan cap for a reporter’s notebook. It totally changes your outlook on the game. The experience of watching a game as a fan and a reporter has its positives and weaknesses, but I’ve had countless memorable moments in UB Stadium and Alumni Arena. Today, I’d like to relive my top-5.
No. 5: Buffalo host Baylor this season
This was a different game.
For the first time, it was less about the game itself, and more about the game day experience. There were 5,000 students drinking and dancing in the CFA parking lot. Thousands more, myself included, gathered inside Stampede Square to listen to country superstar Joe Nichols perform songs like “Sunny and 75” and “Yeah.”
Fans knew the Bulls were going to lose but showed up for the party, ESPN’s cameras and that miniscule chance of the greatest upset in school history. Also, fans had the opportunity to see some of the best players in the country, an opportunity that doesn’t present itself at UB very often.
The Bulls lost, to the surprise of no one, and although fans didn’t go home as happy as they could have been, I think it’s a safe bet everyone had a good time.
No. 4: D.J. Cooper vs. True Blue
Every good rivalry needs a villain. The Red Sox had Derek Jeter. The Bills have Tom Brady. The Knicks had Reggie Miller. The Bulls had D.J. Cooper. And like most superstars, the more you anger them, the better they play.
Cooper was a superstar and loved to show it off at Alumni Arena (he averaged nearly 23 points per game in three games at UB). But the fans wouldn’t let those points come easily and made him a little present.
In 2010, Cooper’s Twitter account showed a picture of him “modeling” a bikini top. He said he was paid to take these pictures, and they have since been deleted. But not before True Blue members got their hands on them.
The UB club enlarged the shots onto a poster board. Cooper stole the sign from the fans in 2013, and Cooper torched the Bulls for 24 points, including 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc, in a 72-69 Ohio victory.
But again, this was about more than just the game. Yes, the Bulls lost, but the environment was memorable because UB had never had a true villain like that in any of my years here. I will never forget being in the stands and participating in chants directed toward Cooper and seeing him react – as hard as he tried not to.
No. 3: Buffalo defeats Ohio at UB Stadium for seventh victory of the season
The Bulls won nine games in my first three years at UB, so yeah, this game was special.
I was thankful to be able to attend this nationally televised game in the crowd rather than the press box. Buffalo was coming off its sixth win of the season, making the Bulls bowl eligible for the first time since their 2008 Mid-American Conference Championship season.
The entire student body had bought into this team as legitimate conference championship contenders. And with players like Khalil Mack, Branden Oliver and Alex Neutz, this was easy to do. The Bulls completely dominated Ohio, 30-3, one of the best teams in the MAC throughout my first four years (I’m in my last semester now) at UB, and Oliver ran for a program-best 249 yards.
No. 2: Western Michigan’s Matt Stainbrook misses two free throws in the final seconds
I was convinced I’d never see a better game at Alumni Arena than the Bulls’ contest against Western Michigan Feb. 2, 2012. The Bulls went back and forth with the Bronocs and trailed by as many as seven points with 14 minutes remaining.
Buffalo retook the lead later in the half. With the Bulls trailing by one, sharpshooter Zach Filzen hit shot to put Buffalo up by one with 12 seconds remaining. Mitchell Watt, Buffalo’s eventual MAC Player of the Year winner, blocked a Western Michigan shot with two seconds remaining. Stainbrook grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
The fans inside Alumni Arena were furious with the foul call. All Stainbrook needed was to make one shot to force overtime and make two to win the game in regulation.
I’ve been to basketball games Madison Square Garden, Barclay’s Center, Air Canada Center, and I’m convinced I’ve never heard a louder basketball arena in my life than when Stainbrook went to the foul line.
Stainbrook led all Western Michigan scorers with 15 points in the game. But all that mattered were the next two. He missed the first. Western Michigan called a timeout. The fans were even louder on the second shot than the first. He missed again. Buffalo held on to win a game that seemed destined to at least go into overtime, and us fans in the crowd couldn’t help but to think we were the biggest reason why.
No. 1: Buffalo basketball clinches the No. 2 seed in the 2012 MAC Tournament
Remember when I said I thought I’d never see a better basketball game in my life?
I was wrong.
The Bulls hosted Bowling Green for the final game of the 2011-12 season. The stakes were simple. If Buffalo won, the team earned a triple-bye to the MAC semifinals. A loss, and its road toward a MAC title would be much more difficult.
The student section was packed. The game was very similar to the Western Michigan contest with both teams exchanging leads. Buffalo trailed by three points with 90 seconds remaining before scoring the game’s final seven points, to earn a 68-64 victory.
What happened next was nothing short of pandemonium.
I was a few ‘Gatorades’ deep at this point and joined the herd of students that charged the court in celebration. You would have thought Buffalo just beat the No. 1 team in the country, or actually won the MAC Championship.
I remember fans picking up Watt. I remember reaching out and getting a high five from him. I remember thinking I was at one of the best basketball universities in the nation.
It is still the greatest sports moment of my life. And it happened right here at UB.
*Note: Yes, there is a very iconic game missing – the Bulls’ 81-67 home victory against nationally ranked Akron in 2013. Unfortunately, I was in Albany that weekend. That’s why it is not on my personal list.