Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr., who founded the franchise in 1959, has passed away at age 95, club president Russ Brandon announced Tuesday.
“I speak for everyone within the Bills organization when I say that we are all suffering a deep and profound sadness with the passing of our Hall of Fame owner Mr. Wilson,” Brandon said in a statement issued by the club.
“We have lost our founder, our mentor, our friend, and this is a very difficult time for us all. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Mary, his daughters Christy and Dee Dee (Edith), his niece Mary and his entire family.
“Mr. Wilson had a relentless passion, a deep love for his Buffalo Bills, the City of Buffalo and the National Football League. He also loved the Bills fans and all of the people of Western New York who embraced the Bills.”
The Bills were one of seven charter AFL franchises, and Wilson was instrumental in helping the league merge with the NFL. The Bills won a pair of AFL championships and made four Super Bowl appearances in his time leading the club. In 2009, Wilson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Off the field, Wilson was involved in a number of charitable causes, including the Ralph Wilson Medical Research Foundation, which has raised more than $11 million.
In a statement issued by the NFL on Tuesday, commissioner Roger Goodell praised Wilson’s contributions to professional football.
“Ralph Wilson was a driving force in developing pro football into America’s most popular sport,” Goodell said. “He loved the game and took a chance on a start-up league in 1960 as a founding owner of the American Football League. He brought his beloved Bills to western New York and his commitment to the team’s role in the community set a standard for the NFL.
“As a trusted advisor to his fellow league owners and the commissioner, Ralph always brought a principled and common-sense approach to issues. His lifelong loyalty to the game was instrumental in his richly deserved induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“We are grateful for his many contributions to the NFL and offer our heartfelt sympathy to the Wilson family.”
With the passing of Wilson will come speculation about the club’s future in Buffalo, which some have suggested could be tenuous.
In his statement on Tuesday, Brandon indicated that any discussion of the future would come in due time.
“Right now all of us are absorbing this tremendous personal loss. We are performing our day-to-day functions as we normally would,” Brandon said. “We understand our fans’ curiosity in wanting to know what the future holds for our organization and that will be addressed in the near future. But at this time, we are committed to honoring the life and legacy of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., the man who delivered NFL football to Buffalo.”