Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Sports

March 25, 2014

Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. dies

Fate of National Football League team now up in the air

BUFFALO — There are only 32 cities in the world privileged enough to have a National Football League franchise.

Ralph C. Wilson Jr., the man solely responsible for Buffalo's inclusion in that highly elite fraternity, has died at the age of 95. Team president and CEO Russ Brandon announced Wilson's death at the NFL owners' meetings in Orlando on Tuesday.
Voted by The Buffalo News as Western New York's "Top Sports Figure" in the past millennium, and described once by a writer as the "conscience of the NFL," Wilson leaves behind a legacy nearly unrivaled in professional sports franchise ownership.
For more than a half century he operated the Bills out of small-market Buffalo, and for portions of that time he did so even when the economic climate in the league, as well as the country, made it difficult.
While the Bills have not been successful on the field in the last decade, they have continued to draw sellout crowds to the stadium in Orchard Park that bears Wilson's name, and during his ownership the franchise won two American Football League championships (1964-65) and, after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, four consecutive American Football Conference championships (1990-93).
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009 — just the fourth owner so honored since 1972 — Wilson stands beside eight other men with ties to his Bills enshrined in Canton, Ohio: O.J. Simpson, Billy Shaw, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Joe DeLamielleure, James Lofton, Marv Levy and Bruce Smith. Former receiver Andre Reed is scheduled to be inducted this summer.
Wilson was called many things during his nine-plus decades on this earth, but perhaps the most endearing was being called a fool.
That's what the established National Football League, as well as many in the national media, thought Wilson and seven other wealthy businessmen were — fools — when they started the American Football League in 1959.

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