On March 25th, 2014 Ralph C. Wilson Jr passed away at the age of 95. He died peacefully in his home alongside his wife and daughters. The United States and especially Western New York lost a great man, a man who embodied the American Dream. Wilson served his country in World War II, enlisting in the Navy and fighting in both theaters of war. After the war he took over his father’s company and invested heavily in the mines and factories of Michigan among other things, eventually forming Ralph Wilson Industries.
Wilson eventually used that money to start a team up in Buffalo in the American Football League, a challenger of the NFL. He was a guiding force in the NFL, lending money to the Raiders when they were in trouble as well as willing to give money to the Patriots. Wilson was the guiding force that ensured the AFL did not fold (unique in pro football history as not a single AFL franchise folded in history. After the JFK assassination, Wilson successfully lobbied the AFL to postpone games that Sunday, while the NFL continued to play. Ralph Wilson was a key figure in the AFL and would continue after the AFL-NFL merger.
What made Wilson so great was he was able to make a small market team very successful. The Buffalo Bills went to four straight Super Bowls, a feat that will more than likely never happen again. During his AFL years, the Bills were able to get many super stars to come to Buffalo, even before the greatness existed. Recently high targeted free agent Mario Williams was swayed to come to Buffalo.
Wilson was a self-made man, saying no to many naming right deals, to this day the Bills play in Ralph Wilson Stadium. He said no to many offers to move the Bills from Buffalo to bigger markets, instead stating that until he dies, the Bills are staying in Buffalo. While some call this stubborn, I believe this was a testament to his commitment to Western New York. He was an outspoken owner, challenging the league’s pre-2011 collective bargaining agreement (something he was commended for afterwards).
The NFL is missing a titan, someone who carried the league when it was down and helped lift it up to greatness. They are missing a titan who built up a small market team into a powerhouse and for a while was a contender every year. Recently the team has faced hard times, but things look to be picking up. The sad thing is Wilson never got to see a Bills Super Bowl ring.