Ralph Wilson Jr: A Great Owner or Business Man?

Ralph Wilson Jr: A Great Owner or Business Man?
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Let me be as upfront as possible:  I have a lifelong deep rooted loathing of the Buffalo Bills.  There are many reasons for this, that, for argument sakes, I will not go into at this time.

Several years ago, I stumbled upon the AFC East Community at  Fans from each division carried on endlessly about their favorite teams and, in turn, took their jabs at division foes.  What I ultimately found was a new, “21st Century” way to express my disdain about the Buffalo Bills.  I had not had so much fun talking trash with people since my days living in the Finger Lakes region of New York and accosting Buffalo Bills fans directly to their faces.

As the ESPN Blogs took an ugly turn and slipped slowly under the water like the Titanic, this new home has allowed me to continue my guilty pleasure of trashing the Bills at any given opportunity.  Besides one of my favorite ribbings about the pending relocation of the Bills franchise, which incidentally drives most Bills fans out of their minds, was my unabashed lambasting of the Bills patriarch Ralph Wilson Jr.

There is quite a bit of “Wikipedia-esqe” information about Ralph Wilson out there…WWII veteran, a successful business man, an owner of a Professional Football franchise, and an NFL Hall of Famer.  One thing is for certain, there are many different sides of Ralph Wilson Jr. that, perhaps, need to be viewed very differently from each other.

As many owners in Professional  Sports, Ralph Wilson had a very privileged childhood that afforded him the opportunity to attend the University of Virginia and then go on to the University of Michigan Law school.  Ralph Wilson did serve for four years in the Navy during WWII.  There is little to no information about his time in the Military and it is a very unlikely that he was storming the beaches of Normandy or fighting in Iwo Jima.  That should not diminish the fact that he served during war time.

After taking over his father’s business, Ralph Wilson went on to become a successful business man with a very diverse portfolio.  Wilson jumped at the chance to be a part of Lamar Hunt’s new football league and went on to create the 7th AFL franchise:  The Buffalo Bills.

A group of AFL visionaries stand together, including Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr., far left, and Al Davis, third from left.

The highpoint of Ralph Wilson’s ownership came on the evening of June 8th 1966 when the AFL-NFL Merger was announced.  Shrewd business decisions by Ralph Wilson, along with the rest of the “Foolish Club”, had made a viable business out of the AFL.  At that point, Ralph Wilson’s talents might have served a better purpose to the NFL in a League role versus being a team owner.

Certainly over the next few days and week all of us will hear about the great accomplishments of Ralph Wilson.  However, for all of the things that Ralph Wilson accomplished in the business world, rarely had that translated into success on the field.  Sure there were the three AFL Championship appearances from 1964 through 1966 that netted two AFL Championships in ‘64 and ‘65……and who could forget those 1990 through 1993 Bills teams that won four straight AFC Championships?

When you peel back the onion, what type of product did Ralph Wilson really deliver in 54 Seasons?

  • Average finish in the division:  3rd Place….Take out the 7 AFL/AFC Championship years, average closer to  4th place
  • A Regular Season Record of 376-436-8 (.468)
  • All Time Post season record of 14-15 (Joe Flacco has 9 Playoff wins just on his own)
  • Longest current Playoff drought in the NFL (Tied for 7th All Time)
  • The third longest Division Title drought in NFL History (18 Seasons and counting)


In the world of sports, there is never any reason to take joy or celebrate the passing of a rival. Even if you are a certified card carrying member of the Buffalo Bills Hater’s Club….After all, it’s just sports…Nothing more.

As a team owner, the game passed Ralph Wilson by over four decades ago and the product on the field sadly reflected that.  But as Ralph Wilson Jr moves on to the Great Mason Jar in sky, he should be remembered as an excellent business man that helped create the AFL.  No one should forget that without his influence, the NFL would not be what it is today and certainly the AFC East wouldn’t be that same either.



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