Buffalo Bills founder Ralph Wilson Jr., a Detroit businessman who helped launch the American Football League in 1960 and later helped guide its merger into the National Football League, has died.
Mr. Wilson, 95, was a member of the “Foolish Club” of eight owners whose teams were included in the original AFL. He was the last surviving owner of the eight franchises.
Mr. Wilson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
“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," Bills president and CEO Russell Brandon said in a statement.
“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 NFL League, Brandon said. He also loved the Bills’ fans.
“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,” Brandon said.
“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.”
He was extremely proud that his Bills are the only team to have played in four consecutive Super Bowls, Brandon added.
The franchise—which Mr. Wilson started for a reported $25,000—is valued today at roughly $870 million, Forbes magazine reported last year. His death brings to the forefront speculation on the future of the franchise and its future in Buffalo.
Brandon said those issues will be addressed in the future.
“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,” he said. “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.”
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