Two things are needed to show Buffalo State Bengal pride: the college’s orange-and-black color scheme and, of course, the signature Bengal mascot.
While these distinctive visual elements have long been ingrained in the fabric of Buffalo State, quite a bit of mystery still surrounds their origins.
Which came first, the Bengal or the colors? The beloved big cat was adopted only in the late 1960s, but the distinctive orange-and-black color scheme can be traced back over a century.
Since the origins of Benji the Bengal (yes, he has a name) are more recent and easier to track, let’s explore the history of the mascot before delving into the school colors.
History at Halftime
Early history shows that while Buffalo State lacked an official name for its sports teams, the college’s athletes were sometimes called Orangemen in reference to the college’s prominent color. This, however, led to conflicts with Syracuse University, whose sports teams donned the same name.
After a short stint as the Billies during the 1950s (complete with a billy goat as the unofficial mascot), a campuswide contest in 1969 led to a permanent name and mascot for Buffalo State’s teams. During a basketball game against Toronto University on December 1, 1969, the winning nickname was announced during the halftime show, and Buffalo State’s team emerged from the locker room with a new name: the Bengals.During the same ceremony, a new logo was also unveiled: a Bengal tiger juxtaposed with the name of Buffalo State College blending into its stripes (pictured). The design was created by student Susan Salazar and served as the official logo of Buffalo State athletics for over 30 years.
The current logo, a ferocious yet somehow friendly Bengal head, was introduced in the 2001–2002 academic year and, by means of yet another contest, in 2013, Benji was chosen as the name for the Bengal, beating out other suggestions like Barry, Elmwood, Rockwell, and Stripes.
Unsurprisingly, the team name and mascot were influenced by the college’s preexisting color scheme. But if the college colors didn’t come from the Bengal, then where did they come from?
The Mysterious Origins of the College Colors
Love it or hate it, the black-and-orange color combo is one of the unique identifiers of Buffalo State and its Bengals; however, official answers as to when and how the colors were designated remain a mystery.
Buffalo State archivist Daniel DiLandro said he long feared the day that questions about the origins of the college’s colors would arise, as no definitive account exists regarding how the hues were established.
“Though the College Archives is proud to maintain and make accessible 150 years of Buffalo State material, there are some questions that we cannot definitely answer,” DiLandro said. “One of these, unfortunately, is the origin and meaning of our orange and black.”
Although the college (originally named the Buffalo Normal School) was founded in 1871, the first known documented reference to the school’s colors appears 31 years later.
An issue of the Buffalo Courier from 1902 highlights a “Students’ Aid Fair” at the college, with a “fancy booth...elaborately trimmed in...the class colors, orange and black.”
Subsequent references can be found in early school songs as well.
The colors are mentioned in the first verse of a song arranged to the tune of Yale’s “Boola Boola” fight song in 1912:
Here’s where we toil with earnest aim
To gain some future fame
Oh a loyal spirit we’ll not lack
We will ever love the “Orange and the Black.”
And again in the chorus:
Hail to Normal, Buffalo Normal,
Hail to Normal, Buffalo Normal,
To our own dear Alma Mater,
And the Orange and the Black!
Ten years later, the colors are referenced again, in another school song from 1922:
We sing our watchward “Onward,”
Thy spirit high and true.
The Black and Orange flaming
O Class of ’22!
While these documents prove that the colors have been around a long time, they do not provide actual answers about how Buffalo State wound up with such a distinctive color scheme.
The signature burnt orange is reminiscent of fire, which may evoke another piece of college imagery. Could “The Black and Orange flaming” lyric of the 1922 song be a reference to the official seal of Buffalo State’s flaming torch?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. The seal was not designed until 1963, by the late Earl W. Wolfgruber, a former faculty member of the Design Department.
Another theory involves a possible connection between the college and its original street address.
In 1871, the Buffalo Normal School was located on 13th and Jersey streets. Princeton University, the Ivy League college in New Jersey, had adopted its orange-and-black color scheme just four years earlier, in 1867, to pay tribute to William III, Prince of Orange, for whom one of the campus buildings was named. In fact, the prince also inspired the name of the city Orange, New Jersey. One possible explanation is that Buffalo State adopted its colors, in keeping with this historic eponym, in homage to the college’s original location on Jersey Street.
One final possibility is that the colors were initially chosen by a specific class or department and later adopted to represent the entire college.
In referencing the 1902 Buffalo Courier article that described orange and black as “class colors,” DiLandro said this may serve as a clue.
“Can we say that particular ‘class’ colors were shortly thereafter embraced by the entire institution? After all, many school colors were adopted by a vote of students or administrations, back in the day,” he said.
Although the search for the colors’ origins has led to more questions than answers, the mystery perhaps adds to the charm and intrigue of the orange and black. Without the colors, after all, there would be no Benji the Bengal.
Amid history unveiled and ideas formulated, the search for the creation of the colors will not likely cease any time soon. Whether the answers lie directly within Buffalo State’s history or beyond is yet to be determined.
“As we are able to make more college history both physically and electronically accessible, we hope to incontestably answer this important question,” DiLandro said. “Too, we wonder if our many alumni or interested researchers can provide some information as well!”