Sad news struck the NFL today when the owner of the Buffalo Bills, Ralph Wilson, passed away.
Wilson was 95 and a beloved figure in the Buffalo community. Once a minority owner of the Detroit Lions, he bought the ownership rights to the Bills name and franchise in 1959 for $25,000. The team is now worth more than $840 million.
Wilson was one of the original founding members of the American Football League, the league that would come to challenge the dominance of the National Football League before the two finally merged in 1970.
Year after year as the economy in western New York began to struggle, the idea came down to move the Bills to a more flourishing community and every year without fail, Wilson would dismiss the talk. He was loyal to the Buffalo community and kept his franchise there from its inception in 1959.
The Bills won two AFL titles in 1964 and 1965 and made four consecutive Super Bowl appearances from 1990 to 1994. The team has not made the playoffs since 1999 and has not had winning season since 2004. Despite the struggles, Wilson never lost faith in his team or the city and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Owners of the other 31 franchises, who were in the NFL Annual Meeting this week, all expressed their grief and admiration for Ralph Wilson and what he meant to football. Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement “Ralph Wilson was a driving force in developing pro football into America’s most popular sport.”
With Wilson gone, the fate of the team is unsure. Many believe the team will be sold and new owners will more than likely move the team from Buffalo. With such an uncertain future, his loss to the league and to the community he loved will be very profound.