Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson has died

Updated: 03/25/2014 6:53 PM
Created: 03/25/2014 3:03 PM WHEC.com

Ralph Wilson, the man who founded the Buffalo Bills, has died. Bills fans in the Rochester area and all over western New York are giving their condolences. Wilson was 95-years-old. He died at his home in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, outside of Detroit. 

He was the sole owner of the Bills and he will be sadly missed by so many people, from the team’s president to current and past players to fans. 

Wilson brought football to our area and was referred to by many that knew him as Mr. Wilson. Ralph Wilson Jr. was a gentleman, who was always said, ‘Hello’ and stopped for a conversation. He commanded respect and received it from his beloved Buffalo Bills fans. Mr. Wilson put western New York on the NFL map and never intended to take them off it.

Ralph Wilson Jr. wasn't born in Buffalo, but he is Buffalo. He is the man that brought the Bills to the city and the team’s only owner. He is a Detroit native who invested in the Lions before serving in the Navy during World War II. 

In 1959, Wilson joined seven other wealthy business men risky personal fortunes and big reputations to form the American Football League. They were called the “Foolish Club.”

He chose the city of Buffalo, leased an existing stadium and paid a $25,000 franchise fee. While he reveled in his success, he kept other franchise afloat financially likely saving the league from folding a beloved sports figure during the winning and when the losing piled up, so did the criticism.

Ralph Wilson Jr. has been called the conscious of the NFL by fellow owners, a man of integrity who never bought into the idea of moving franchises, stadium naming rights and the business getting bigger than the game. 

His philosophy was keeping his small market team affordable for fans while building a viable business.

He re-located training camp to Rochester and St. John Fisher College in 2000, a visionary who was ahead of the curve.

He went one scary step further negotiating a series of home games to played in Toronto creating concern and controversy that the deal could lead the Bills out of western New York..

The Bills’ four straight Super Bowl appearances will more than likely never happen again in NFL History, but that feat does not define Mr. Wilson's legacy.

The Buffalo Bills statement on the passing of Ralph Wilson: 

"I speak for everyone within the Bills organization when I say that we are all suffering a deep and profound sadness with the passing of our Hall of Fame owner Mr. Wilson," said Bills CEO and President Russ Brandon. "We have lost our founder, our mentor, our friend, and this is a very difficult time for us all. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Mary, his daughters Christy and Dee Dee (Edith), his niece Mary and his entire family.

"Mr. Wilson had a relentless passion, a deep love for his Buffalo Bills, the City of Buffalo and the National Football League.  He also loved the Bills fans and all of the people of Western New York who embraced the Bills.

"This incredible man was the personification of the Buffalo Bills. His life was grit, determination and resolve. He was bigger than life in many ways and yet he was the everyday man, driving his Ford Taurus to the local store and greeting everyone as they called out "Hi Ralph!" He will be greatly missed by those in our community whose lives he touched.

"Mr. Wilson was a man of true integrity, charisma and a hero in every sense of the word. His service to his country in the South Pacific in World War II is well documented. He was a pioneer in the American Football League. He was instrumental in forging the merger between the AFL and the NFL. Mr. Wilson will long be remembered as a man who was true to his word and did countless acts of kindness and generosity for so many, while never seeking the limelight in doing so.

"More than anything, he wanted to bring a Super Bowl Championship to Western New York. He wanted it for the players, the coaches and the franchise. But mostly he wanted it for the fans.  No owner has wanted a title more for these reasons than Mr. Wilson. In the end, he was extremely proud that his Bills are the only team to have played in four consecutive Super Bowls.

"For those of us fortunate to have worked for him, we'll miss his kindness, his insight, his leadership, but mostly his sense of humor. He possessed the unique ability to turn a negative into a positive.

"Our organization, our league, our community has lost a great man.

"Right now all of us are absorbing this tremendous personal loss. We are performing our day-to-day functions as we normally would. We understand our fans' curiosity in wanting to know what the future holds for our organization and that will be addressed in the near future. But at this time, we are committed to honoring the life and legacy of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., the man who delivered NFL football to Buffalo."

Tweets from Buffalo Bills Community

"Oh my goodness! Our hearts are broken. The entire Buffalo Bills community mourns! LORD heal. Please heal our team community." -Jill Kelly, wife of Jim Kelly.

"Sending thoughts and prayers to the Wilson Family! I owe him a tremendous amount for opportunity to be a Bill! Mr. Wilson has done a lot for not only me and my teammates, but the entire NFL family. He truly will be missed." -Fred Jackson

"Rest in peace to a great man. Can't thank him enough for the opportunity he has given me in Buffalo."-Eric Wood

Statement from Governor Cuomo on the passing of Ralph Wilson Jr.:

"Today we lost a legendary member of the New York family. Ralph Wilson Jr., the last remaining original team owner of an AFL franchise, member of the NFL Hall of Fame, and founder of the Buffalo Bills, gave us a team that has been the pride of Western New York for the past 54 years. The Bills remain, to this day, an economic engine for the region, generating revenue and providing jobs at a stadium that will bear Mr. Wilson's name for years to come. From his military service during World War II, to his ownership of the Bills, Mr. Wilson left a legacy of leadership that helped keep the team in Buffalo for more than half a century. His passion for football and dedication to his community epitomized the spirit of the Buffalo Bills and their fans. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends and the entire Bills organization."

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