Ralph Wilson: Forever Grateful

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Ralph C. Wilson Jr. wasn’t just the owner of the Buffalo Bills. He was the reason Buffalo remained on the proverbial map. Ask most people around the country what the first thing they think of when they hear the word “Buffalo” is and a good number of them will say the Bills. We have all heard the Super Bowl jokes, we all get it by now. Ralph Wilson, and by association, the fans, are darn proud of our four consecutive appearances in the Super Bowl.

The Bills are not a big box store, they are the Mom and Pop store that will always have their loyal customers and will never grow much beyond what they are now. We are all ok with that, and Ralph Wilson is the reason we are all ok with that.

When Mr. Wilson passed away, a small piece of all of us died too. There was a comfort knowing he was still around. Even as a little kid, when I pictured him, I saw an older gentleman sitting in his high-back chair in front of a fire in his suburban Michigan home, much like Montgomery Burns in The Simpsons. I liked the fact that the higher-ups at One Bills Drive would often hop on a plane and fly to Grosse Pointe, MI to speak to Mr. Wilson about different issues. The team came off as having a family atmosphere. I attended my first Bills game during the 1990 season with my father. I remember thinking the whole week that I couldn’t believe I was going to Rich Stadium to see the Bills! I was hooked and Ralph Wilson was part of the reason why.

We may never get back to a Super Bowl – heck at this rate we will be happy with a winning season or a playoff berth. But do we realize how lucky we are to have a team? So many larger cities don’t have an NFL team, but WE do. We’ve had it for 54 years.

My dad and grandfather went to games at the Rockpile, my dad and I attended games at the Stadium in the early 90’s, last season we went to a game together for the first time in probably 15 years. I’m a Bills season ticket holder, have been for most of the last 10 years. I’ll never give up my seats. It’s my Sunday family. The Bills are family, it’s where relationships are started, lifetime friendships are made, and people are proposed to, all at a football game. Ralph Wilson is the reason it is all possible.

Mr. Wilson was the 8th and final member of the famed Foolish Club in the late 1950’s. Five little words changed our lake-side city. “Count me in with Buffalo”, words that to this day are 5 of the most important words ever uttered about our fair city. He picked us, but maybe we picked him too. Mr. Wilson saw something in Buffalo, in the AFL, with the Hunt’s and Adams’ and the other members that nobody else saw: potential. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was the rival league to the NFL.

The American Football League was the little brother that wouldn’t leave you alone. The NFL had no choice but to merge or risk losing out on players and television revenue money. Ralph Wilson was at the head of the table making the merger happen.

We stood with Mr. Wilson through lots of winning but even more losing. We cried with him, tears of sadness, and tears of joy. We all wish we could have written the famous letter to Commissioner Paul Tagliabue after the “Just give it to ‘em” game. We were thankful Mr. Wilson spoke for us. Mr. Wilson probably stood up for our Buffalo Bills and defended us more times than we could count. Mr. Wilson was smart and even as he advanced in years, knew what was good for Buffalo and the Bills.

Mr. Wilson, we thank you – I thank you – for standing with us all these years. You believed in us as fans and we tried our hardest not to let you down. You were a giant, a legend and you made us matter. Thank you for giving us our Buffalo Bills. You did your part; we will take it from here. May you Rest in Peace. Adieu.