Despite the fact it is snowing in Orchard Park, NY tonight, one light shines in Ralph Wilson stadium. It shines in memory of a man that shined his light on the league for many years, team owner Ralph Wilson, who passed away today at the age of 95.
Many probably don’t know, he was actually a minority owner of the Detroit Lions when he got wind of the plan to open a new league (the AFL). He originally tried to field a team in Miami, but when he was turned down, he set up and was approved for a team in Buffalo, NY. The rest was, and is, history.
Ralph Wilson was an owner that was always active, right from the beginning. He was an advocate for policies in the AFL that did a great deal to contribute to its success, like TV revenue sharing, and gate revenue sharing. He actually lent money to his fellow owners in the AFL that were in trouble, just so the league would be able to continue.
Wilson was the owner from the beginning until his passing, seeing the team through its near glory years of four straight Super Bowls with Marv Levy walking the sidelines. The name of the stadium was changed to his in 1998, when the original naming rights deal expired. He passed up numerous opportunities to sell the name to various corporate ventures.
Ralph was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009. He was loved by his owner colleagues, even the newer ones. Here are Woody Johnson’s remarks on the passing of Wilson:
It’s the end of a real important era. Ralph was so important in developing football into what it is today. He was the NFL. He was the AFL. He was always a guy that was up to the task. He had a great sense of humor. He was a great speaker. I heard his Hall of Fame speech he gave in 1991. It was better than most people could give at the age of 31. He was really just an incredible leader with great vision and so it’s an end of really a major, major part of American football to lose a guy like Ralph Wilson. He was one of the first guys I met when I decided to pursue this line of work.
Ralph Wilson is survived by his wife Mary, and his daughters, Christy and Edith, known to most as Dee Dee.
The NFL continues preparation for the NFL draft and the 2014 season, but it does so with a heavy heart tonight, as they mourn the passing of one of its own.
Condolences go out to the Wilson family, everyone around the Buffalo Bills, and Bills fans around the state and the country.