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1939 Buffalo Bulls Football

by Scott Hollander
University at Buffalo Libraries

Vince Bonerb

Vince Bonerb

Although Head Coach Jim Peelle warned University of Buffalo alumni that 1939 might be a tough year for U.B. football (see “Peelle Singing BluesUniversity of Buffalo Alumni Publication, October 1, 1939), he was more optimistic in the local Buffalo newspapers. “We went to C.C.N.Y. for the opener last year with just six plays. We’ll have an improved team, but our schedule is tougher, too, with Lehigh and Connecticut as new opponents” Peelle said in the Buffalo Courier-Express.

Thirty-five players gathered on the North Main Street campus for the first workout of the season in September of 1939. Peelle regarded Vince Bonerb, a Canisius High School graduate, as a real find. The 185-pound athlete spent one year at the University of Alabama, but didn’t go out for football there. He transferred to Buffalo in the fall of 1938. Blessed with a sense of timing and a strong arm, Coach Peelle felt Bonerb would be a real offensive threat in 1939.

Buffalo lost their first game of the year, 6-0, to Susquehanna University in an unrelenting downpour at Rotary Field that shackled their passing attack and made the turf treacherous for ball-carriers. The “vaunted” Buffalo passing attack was stopped cold the following week againstCity College of New York as U.B. completed only four passes with four interceptions losing 19-0. In a third straight home loss to Alfred University, 14-0, Buffalo’s offensive made just three first downs and completed only two passes the entire game.

The season was quickly becoming a disaster as the rest of the schedule was against opponents highly rated in the East as strong small college teams. As injuries mounted and with few experienced backups, offensive power and second half stamina became woefully lacking. Buffalo lost the rest of its games finishing the season win less at 0-7. The lone touchdown of the season was scored in Buffalo’s fifth game by Gene Nuwer on a 25 yard dash against the University of Connecticut’s second-string defense.

The season became even more embarrassing after the article “Bitter Dregs Bowl Suggested” in the November 20, 1939 issue of the New York Sun proposed that the University of Buffalo play Centenary College of Louisiana in a mythical bowl game for chronic losers. Buffalo was called the worst offensive team in the nation.

Shortly after the Sun article, the Buffalo Bee newspaper at the University of Buffalo demanded that school officials either subsidize or abolish football charging that the 1939 team, which scored just one touchdown in losing eight games, did not “justify its existence in intercollegiate competition.” (see “U. B. Student Paper Demands Football Or Abandonment” Buffalo Courier-Express, 9 December 1939) Walter Behrens, President of the University of Buffalo Alumni Club, responded in a December 9, 1939 letter to the sports editor of the Buffalo Courier-Express. Football at the University of Buffalo was in serious turmoil yet again.

More game action

Two players



1939 Buffalo Football Season

Date Home Team Score Visiting Team W-L-T Location
9/30/19391 Buffalo 0 – 6 Susquehanna L Buffalo, NY
10/7/19392 Buffalo 0 – 19 City College of NY L Buffalo, NY
10/14/19393 Buffalo 0 – 14 Alfred L Buffalo, NY
10/21/19394 Lehigh 0 – 22 Buffalo L Bethlehem, PA
10/28/19395 Buffalo 7 – 25 Connecticut L Buffalo, NY
11/11/19396 Hobart 20 – 0 Buffalo L Geneva, NY
11/18/19397 Wayne State 20 – 0 Buffalo L Detroit, MI

Home: Rotary Field, Bailey and Winspear Avenues
Coach: James Peelle

  1. U.B. Beaten in Opener, 6 to 0Buffalo Courier-Express Buffalo, NY, 1 October 1939.
  2. Romero, Stein Pace Beavers to 19-0 MarginBuffalo Courier-Express Buffalo, NY, 8 October 1939.
  3. Alfred Defeats U.B. By 14-0Buffalo Courier-Express Buffalo, NY, 15 October 1939.
  4. Lehigh Scores First Victory Beating BullsBuffalo Courier-Express Buffalo, NY, 22 October 1939.
  5. Bulls Suffer Fifth Defeat, Finally ScoreBuffalo Courier-Express Buffalo, NY, 29 October 1939.
  6. Hobart Whips Buffalo, 20-0; Ferris StarsBuffalo Courier-Express Buffalo, NY, 12 November 1939.
  7. Wayne Subdues Buffalo Foes By 20-0 CountBuffalo Courier-Express Buffalo, NY, 19 November 1939.


A plea to remove the University of Buffalo from the football doldrums was voiced yesterday by the Bee, campus newspaper, in a front page editorial which said, “The time has again come to review last year’s plea — ‘subsidize or abolish football.’”

Charging that the 1939 team, which scored one touchdown, “did not justify its existence in intercollegiate competition,” that students who pay an athletic fee to see football and basketball games ”receive no compensation,” the editorial concluded “Popular opinion demands an answer. Least of all, let’s not continue in the same hopeless rut.”

Richard Lipsitz and Gene Hiller, who collaborated on the editorial, suggested that ten scholarships be granted to athletes in order to build up a representative team. It was explained that no expense would be involved, inasmuch as the recipients merely would “sit in free on classes.”

The story met a warm response on the campus, inasmuch as there is a general demand for better teams on the part of the student body. The undergraduates feel that an institution the size of U. B. should be represented by more powerful squads.

Last spring an official edict pointed out that alumni were free to assist worthy students, even if they were football players. The editorial states that alumni efforts to raise funds to aid worthy athletes had failed, and that it is now up to university authorities to act.

Buffalo Courier-Express, December 9, 1939

Sports Editor, Courier Express:

—Since the University of Buffalo concluded its football season there have been many articles written concerning its poor showing. I have listened to a lot of criticism, also have received a great many suggestions as to how the University of Buffalo should put a better football team on the field. The Alumni Club of the University of Buffalo reorganized in 1939 solely for the purpose of raising funds to give Rhodes Type Scholarships and conducted a campaign in Buffalo last May and June. At this point I might add that the Alumni Club has been doing this for some years, helping boys who could not obtain a scholarship elsewhere but needed financial assistance to acquire an education. If the Alumni and the people of Buffalo would like to have a team that would do honor to this city, then let them contribute financially instead of talking and writing about the situation. Ten thousand dollars a year would enable us to take in ten worthy boys each year, giving each a full scholarship and making a squad of 30 after three years.

The University of Buffalo can’t provide scholarships for athletics, so let’s not criticize the chancellor, faculty and the university council. A letter will go to all Alumni in 1940 in an effort to single out all those who are interested in better athletics at the University of Buffalo.

President of the Alumni Club of the University of Buffalo.

Buffalo Courier-Express, December 23, 1939