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 —

After the war ended he took over the successful insurance business of his father and invested in Michigan area mines and factories. He eventually purchased several manufacturing outlets, construction firms, and radio stations, and founded Ralph Wilson Industries.
Although he made his fortune in the business world, the Bills were always Wilson's No. 1 love. For most of his tenure as owner he attended all of the games, home and away, and only in last few years did he skip games, usually because the travel became too cumbersome for him.
His commitment to Buffalo, sometimes overlooked by fans of the team who often felt he was unwilling to pay for a winning product, came as no surprise to his fellow owners. Not once did he ever vote "yes" for a franchise relocation because he always believed teams owed it to their fans to make things work.
During the AFL years, Wilson was one of the most influential men in the league. Not only did he build one of its strongest teams, he also played a vital role behind the scenes in some of the most important of pro football's history-shaping events.
The Oakland franchise was about to go bankrupt before Wilson loaned owner Wayne Valley $400,000 in exchange for 25 percent ownership. The money was paid back a few years later after the Raiders had become solvent. He also lent money to Boston Patriots' owner Billy Sullivan to help his franchise stay operational during the nascent years.
Wilson helped the AFL procure its first big-time television contract in 1964, a deal NBC paid each club $900,000 annually.
When it became obvious at that point that the AFL was going to be a worthy competitor for the NFL, the NFL began to consider a merger with the upstart league. Wilson was chosen to negotiate with Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom and they laid the groundwork for the historic union that started the ball rolling on the NFL becoming the most popular sports league in the world.

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