Every Monday night I sit at this same computer to write about the Bills, and I have the same routine: Organize thoughts, check stats to make sure I’m not crazy, write stuff, double check stats, review, wife review, get mad at self because wife is right. This week, I don’t need stats. I don’t need to organize my thoughts. I’ll still have the wife check it because her unbiased opinion keeps these articles sane. All I want to do this week is relay one message from the heart. Thank you Ralph Wilson.
I grew up on the West Side of Buffalo, and every Sunday my family ate dinner at my grandmother’s house. Whatever sport was on, we watched as we ate, yet watching sports in the fall was much different than any other time of the year. My family would scream in unison at every flag thrown against the Bills; even louder when we scored. I never saw even a close resemblance to that emotion when watching NASCAR or baseball. The emotions made me want to watch, and soon I was screaming just as loud as my uncle Bob (which is hard thing to do when you’re nine). I became a fan. Not just a fan, but a Bills fan. For that, I thank you Ralph Wilson.
My first season watching every game was magical. We were unstoppable. I remember buying football cards and trying to make my own “best in the NFL” team and every single player was a Buffalo Bill, except Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders were in the backfield together. Did I mention we were unstoppable? We lost 2 games that mattered the whole year, benching the starters in the finale to finish 13-3. We dismantled Miami and eviscerated the Raiders. We lost on Norwood’s kick against the Giants and I cried. I cried all night. I never knew I could be so engrossed in something that wasn’t family and have that much of an emotional bond, even at 10 years old. For that bond, I thank you Ralph Wilson.
Through the heartbreaking losses to end each season, I knew we were still the best team in the league. I still wore my zuba pants to school. Every hat I ever owned was a Bills hat. I didn’t care if everyone around me was disappointed; we were still the best in my eyes. It took almost ten years for me to truly realize the magnitude of what they had done during that era. No salary caps, a small market team, an offensive strategy most teams wouldn’t dare even thinking of running. It didn’t matter, because there was someone who got the right coach and the right general manager to make sure we had the best team in the league. For that magical run and all the stories I can share with my son, I thank you Ralph.
The last ten years have been rough, but I could never abandon what has become part of my life. I haven’t lived in Buffalo for 14 years but I always find a way to watch the game. I’d constantly call my best friend on the weekends to talk Bills football, in season or not. When I lived in Hawaii I would wake up and get to a bar by 7 a.m. to make sure I didn’t miss kickoff. Every season started off 0-0, and we were the best team in the league. I even bought a J.P. Losman jersey. This team is a part of my life I can never let go. I’ve learned to never give up on what I love and for that I thank you Ralph Wilson.
The more we lost, though, the more the rumor mill stirred with possibilities of the team leaving. We’ve all heard the stories of how L.A. or Toronto were the next landing ground. Vegas wanted a team too. Then you gave us fans the best present of all; a lease agreement with the state that would turn even the shrewdest of business men away who would even think of moving this team (not including the former Sabres Logo and the guy hiding under it). You made absolutely sure that when you left us, the Bills wouldn’t. For that, from the bottom of my heart, thank you Ralph.
The NFL wouldn’t be what it is today without you, and many of us wouldn’t have this part of our lives without what you’ve done. You deserve every accolade thrown your way and more. Rest in peace knowing YOUR Bills went out a winner.