Game rewind: “The Election Game”
Four years ago, blue beat red on and off the field on historic night
Published: Sunday, October 28, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
– President-elect Barack Obama, Election Night 2008
It was a night that all things were possible, not only across America, but in Western New York: Nov. 4, 2008.
For the first time at UB Stadium, the eyes of the college football world descended upon Buffalo for a nationally televised game. For those who weren’t glued to CNN, Fox News, MSNBC or any other news source, those who desperately needed a sports fix, the Bulls delivered. They took on Mid-American Conference rival Miami Ohio in a high-stakes matchup, a chance to prove to the nation they were for real.
It was a historic day for the Bulls and the nation as a whole. On the same night the first African-American man won the highest seat in the United States, quarterback Drew Willy tied Marty Barrett (1980-83) in career touchdown passes with 44. The Bulls beat Miami Ohio 37-17 in what was the first win versus the RedHawks in school history, after losing the first 10 matchups.
Off the field, the build up was intense. As a result, not everything was ready for such a broadcast. In order to get everything ready for primetime, some adjustments had to be made.
“I remember we had to bring in temporary lights for the television broadcast,” said assistant athletic director Jon Fuller, who was the athletic communications director at the time. “The lights we had prior to what we have now weren’t bright enough for an HD broadcast.”
Buffalo had successfully petitioned the NCAA to allow Miami (Ohio) to wear its home red jerseys along with the home ‘blues’ the Bulls usually wear at home, creating a “red and blue” matchup.
Sixteen thousand fifty-eight people packed UB Stadium – an impressive amount considering most were glued to a TV set, awaiting the election’s results. The people who decided to stay were thoroughly entertained. It started with a pregame tribute to Tim Russert, the late political journalist and moderator of Meet the Press. His son, Luke, thanked the fans for their support with a pre-game video, and Tim’s sister, Kathy, and niece, Ashley, served as honorary captains.
During television timeouts, WGRZ-TV reporter Kevin O’Neill informed the crowd of the election results, as Obama won key states throughout the night. Republican Arizona Senator John McCain, running against the Democrat, finally admitted defeat around 11 p.m, just after the football game.
Warde Manuel, UB’s former athletic director, enjoyed the advantage of the “12th man” in that game.
“It was just unbelievable,” Manuel said. “The atmosphere [in the stadium] was on fire.”
The game ended as expected for the Bulls, as their explosive offense was too much for Miami Ohio. Behind 177 yards of offense on the ground from future Green Bay Packers running back James Starks, Willy’s 245 yards in the air and former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt’s 148 yards receiving, the Bulls beat the RedHawks 37-17 to move into first place in the MAC East – a place they never left that year.
“I’m excited for our fans and excited for our university,” said current Liberty head coach Turner Gill after that 2008 win, who was the Bulls’ head coach at the time. “This is a big win for our program and now we have to continue on. [This was] a historic night, obviously [not only] for the presidential race but also for Buffalo’s football program. This is just the beginning of our journey.”
It was a journey that eventually catapulted the Bulls to the promise land – a MAC title.
Four years later, even though the Bulls played and won bigger games that year – the “Hail Mary Game” against Temple at home and the MAC Championship game in Detroit versus Ball State being among them – The Election Game holds a special spot in Buffalo lore.
“That was probably one of the greatest games that I’ve ever participated in, because of the season we were going through,” Manuel said. “It had this sort of electricity, with the national election and with everything that was going on. The number of eyeballs on the screen – the people who were tired of watching the election results were watching [the game] – it was a great win for us.”
For those who are still on the UB Athletics staff, it was remembered as a crucial night for the program.
“For me, it was just a great night to be part of,” said Associate Director of Communications Brian Wolff, who was then the assistant director of athletic communications.“Outside of people watching the election, we were the only other thing going on nationally. It really got our name out there and was one of many great moments in what was a pretty remarkable season.”
It was a night to never forget in a year to always remember.