Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Bills

March 25, 2014

Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. dies

Fate of National Football League team now up in the air

(Continued)

BUFFALO —

At a time in America when baseball was far and away the No. 1 sport and the country's self-described national pastime, it was thought to be foolish for Wilson and his cohorts — who were ultimately dubbed The Foolish Club — to fathom starting a new football league when the NFL was struggling to gain its foothold.
However, Wilson and Texas oil-man Lamar Hunt saw pro football growing in popularity thanks in part to the 1958 NFL Championship Game which Baltimore won in overtime over the New York Giants.
They felt the landscape was ripe for expansion of the NFL from its then 12-team alliance, but both men were repeatedly rebuffed by short-sighted NFL officials, so they did the only thing they could: Forge ahead with their own entity, and plans were finalized for a new eight-team league to begin operating in time for the 1960 season.
Teams were established in major markets such as New York, Boston, Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles, and Wilson originally wanted to set up his shop in Miami because he wintered in south Florida and had many connections there, though not as many as he thought.
Politicians as well as University of Miami officials steadfastly opposed the proposed AFL team occupying the Orange Bowl, a deal could not be struck, and with nowhere to play, Wilson considered telling Hunt to move forward without him.
But Wilson, who was a part owner of his hometown Detroit Lions, could not let go of his dream of owning his own team. Hunt told him cities such as St. Louis, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Louisville were all interested in having a team and the other owners would support whatever decision he made.
Buffalo only became a consideration when two of Wilson's Detroit cronies implored him to check out the rust belt city on the other side of Lake Erie.

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