The Bills have had 820 regular season games and 29 playoff appearances with two AFL titles and four conference championships over 54 seasons under one owner. Ralph Wilson was the first and only member of the club, enjoying more than a half-century tenure that coincided with the team’s existence. By going from an upstart group of challengers to the sport’s elder, Wilson lived through a great deal of football history as he made it.
Wilson could have never owned a sports franchise and still lived a fill life. But the Lions minority shareholder, who had done well in trucking and insurance, was just beginning to impact the sporting world.
He was already a successful businessman in his 40s when the Bills played their first game during the Eisenhower presidency. Before then, Wilson fought the Axis at the same time as the then-general: a man born at the tail end of World War I selflessly participated in World War II. The Navy veteran served far more than a community that was hungry for football.
As an astute entrepreneur, Wilson knew the nation had an appetite for more football that matched his passion for the game. The iconoclastic American Football League offered an alternative to the stodgy NFL that forced the established group to adapt and subsume.
The Bills further stood as a rebel in a rebel’s league by grounding out the ball and playing lock-down defense as their opponents aired it out. After naming the team for a Wild West icon, Wilson helped football settle in Western New York’s frontier.
There may be nothing more intrinsic to life in Western New York than football Sundays. This team unites residents more than anything else. Bills fans are a family that chose the bond, and we have lost our patriarch.
Those who made the decision to support the squad can always value life lessons through shared exhilaration and letdown. The relationship has improved our physical selves, as well. Part of Wilson’s legacy will remain his contributions to the well-being of residents. Donations to numerous charitable health-related endeavors in the city where he kept his team and elsewhere ensure that his good work stays alive.
There’s never been a time when backers have longed more for the distraction of games. Concerns about getting the offense going and who starts at which linebacker spot would be a joy right now. These are dark moments for the Bills as Jim Kelly simultaneously faces his own health challenge. The greatest asset for the public face of keeping the team in the only home it’s known is the same relentless toughness he displayed between the sidelines. Fans are offering twice the thoughts and prayers.
Upcoming moments will be spent figuring out who’s going to be the second owner. Nobody wants to think about the franchise’s future at this moment despite looming questions sadly springing to mind. We hope to count on prominent former Buffalo Bills and current Buffalo businessmen leading the drive. Muted natural concern about what happens next doesn’t take away from mourning the only proprietor we’ve ever known.
A $25,000 investment in a team turned into a priceless part of so many lives. Thankfulness helps assuage sorrow. Even after his passing, Ralph Wilson remains the embodiment of the Buffalo Bills and its biggest fan.