Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. passes away at age 95

AP

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.”

149 responses to “Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. passes away at age 95

  1. This is a sad day. Ralph was a top notch guy, and Buffalo should be grateful to have had him.

  2. A very sad say in Western New York. Ralph was committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo and that speaks volumes about who he was. He took us, four times consecutively, to the Super Bowl and that is an amazing feat. RIP Ralph Wilson and thank you!

  3. Giants fan here who has immense respect for the great Bills owner who managed to keep a small market team in Buffalo for so long and did it with class. You will be missed Mr. Wilson.

  4. One of the all time greats in the pantheon of the NFL ; those incredible Bills teams of the early 1990’s gave us some of the most exciting games in the history of pro sports.
    It isn’t always about how many rings you won or didn’t win . . . at the end of day , all sports are a form of entertainment , and those Buffalo Bills teams almost gave us more entertainment than we could handle. Mr. Wilson , you will always be fondly remembered , sir.

  5. With all the crap bills fans gives the organization we truly do love the guy. So many great memories in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Thank you Ralph

  6. Rest in Peace. Been some tough seasons for your Bills in recent years…but this league would not be the same without you, and that is meant with the deepest respect.

  7. R.I.P. Ralph – God Bless you and all you have done for us and the city of Buffalo.

    Prayers for your family during this incredibly difficult time.

    #GoBills.

  8. Tough day being a Bills fan with Ralph passing and news of Jim Kelly that he is not doing good at all. RIP Ralph and thanks so much for keeping the Bills in Buffalo during my lifetime. I was born the same year the Bills came into the league. Sure hope the Bills stay put.

  9. 95 years old, what a great life! A true pioneer of the game. All my thanks goes to Ralph Wilson since he was the one who put up the money to the original owners for the Oakland Raiders. Rest in peace and my thoughts and prayers are with the Wilson and Buffalo Bills family.

  10. As a Chargers fan, I feel a much closer affinity to other AFL teams than I do other teams. I may be in my 20’s, but I know all those crazy AFL owners who dared to challenge the NFL, meanwhile also introducing the sport to the Forward Pass, allowed my Chargers to be where they are today.

    I don’t believe in God, prayer or the afterlife, but a giant “thank you” for running a classy organization all these years, and helping to bring-up the NFL.

  11. I’m pretty sure that RW was the LAST of the AFL’s original gangstahs.

    Buffalo lost a legendary owner — a man loyal to a region that is not exactly a sporting hotbed. RW brought rust belt-ish southwestern New York a big-time pro football franchise – and kept it there — before much larger markets like Miami, Seattle and Phoenix entered the bigs.

  12. Great owner, greater man…wish they could have won at least one of those SuperBowls for Mr. Wilson.

  13. I wish he would have got just one SB Win out of the 4 but he is still a legend and one of the best owners a community could ask for.

    Thank You Mr Wilson for everything you have done for WNY.

  14. Sad for Buffalo Bills fan like me. What Mr. Ralph Wilson Jr. meant to the Buffalo Bills nobody will ever know. It was just a matter of time due to his age. I really wished the Bills could have made a playoff run before his passing. R.I.P Mr. Wilson!!!! Go Bills and Please keep the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo where they belong!!!! #billieve

  15. No snarky comments.

    The Bills are a franchise worthy of respect, even in spite of their recent record.

    The ownership, management, players (well most) and fans all “know” football.

    That starts with the owner.

  16. RIP Ralph. Your influence on the game will forever be felt. You’ll forever be remembered with the likes of Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams as pioneers. Thanks for helping mold the league into what it is now!

    ***Keep the Bills in Buffalo*** somebody put the blocks to Rogers and buy the team before he can even put in an offer.

  17. Thanks Mr. Wilson for keeping the Bills in Buffalo all these years. My condolences to your family.

  18. R.I.P. Mr. Wilson. Western NY, BillsMafia thank you for everything you have done for the City of Buffalo and It’s people. You will be sorely
    missed by many! We love ya Ralph!

    #GoBills
    #BillsMafia
    #NobodyCirclesTheWagonsLikeTheBuffaloBills

  19. RIP to another of the fallen member of the old guard. Purely fantasy, but here’s hoping that the Lions and Bills face off in the 2015 Super Bowl, with Ralph and William Clay watching on from their own private suite.

  20. Rest in peace.

    And PFT it is beyond time to delete the thumbs down option. The trolls thumbing down these comments – and others like them over the years – are disgusting.

    For those trolls – time to grow up.

  21. Sad day in Upstate New York. While a Bucs fan always root for the Bills second. We loved him and are grateful for everything he did for the organization. RIP Ralph

  22. Was Mr Wilson the last surviving member of the foolish club? I for one am grateful for their contribution to professional football.
    R.I.P.

  23. Buffalo Bills were not an “investment” for this guy. He loved football as much as any of us who follow this site. You guys voting down RIP, what the hell is wrong with you? Your life flat out sux compared to what this man did. I hope ppl thumb down your obits.

  24. RIP Mr Wilson. You truly loved the game and your town. As a Raider fan, I owe a debt of gratitude. Many don’t know that he made a loan that was prohibited by the league to the Raiders early on to keep them afloat. Without him there would be no Raiders and the Bills would’ve probably been long gone. Godspeed to a milestone man of the NFL.

  25. I don’t see why everyone is so sad. This guy lived a great life and died of old age while being well loved. We should all be so lucky. Congrats Ralph Wilson, you’ve just completed a great life!

  26. Buffalo is a tough city and the butt of many jokes. It’s not as flashy as So-Cal or as wealthy as Toronto, but it’s home, and despite its struggles, we will always support our Bills.
    Thank you, Mr. Wilson, for giving us all something to cheer about.

  27. One of two owners who had the ball to vote against the Browns moving to Baltimore. BROWNS fans never forget. REST IN PEACE SIR

  28. All of the colorful old school owners who made the league what it is are gone. I always had respect for Wilson along with the other AFL owners who truly pushed the NFL.

  29. When the fraud Modell went to Murder City Ralph Wilson and those crazy Bills fans threw a Dawn Pound day. Pure Class, as football on the shores of Lake Erie ought to be. Rest assured we Browns fans will not forget and we will stand shoulder to shoulder, circling the Lake Erie Wagon to keep you in Buffalo, and prevent any Los Angeles (or less likely) Toronto Bills crap.

  30. OJ Simpson. Four straight Super Bowl losses. 13 years without playoffs. Jim Kelly, the one man who has vowed to keep the Bills in Buffalo after Ralph dies, stricken with cancer the week Ralph dies! God, what have we done to offend you?!?!

  31. More sad news from the Buffalo area today!

    Rest in Peace

    Thoughts and prayers for you and your loved ones

  32. Ralph had a big part in shaping what the NFL is today. At one time he lent Al Davis money just to keep the Raiders afloat. That you Ralph for helping shape the league I love so much, that used to be full of tradition. Mostly, thank you for bringing excitement to WNY where I grew up!

  33. RIP to a true legend. Everyone knew him and Al were the last of the original owners. Would love to see a football life for Mr. Wilson so we all can truly understand how much he meant to the game. Because a lot of us don’t know his role and what exactly he did. Just bits and pieces.

  34. As a native WNYer and a Bills fans most of my life, there were times I wished Ralph would sell the team. When it looked like he didn’t want to win. When he looked ready to move to greener pastures. Eventually, the team improved, and he never did move.

    Whatever the Bills have (and have not) been over their 54 seasons, Ralph Wilson made them possible. For that, I will always be grateful. RIP, Ralph.

  35. Wow. Legendary. He was one of the originals who started the AFL who made the NFL into what it is today…well, before Goodell got a hold of it. The guard is changing. Lamar Hunt, Al Davis, Ralph Wilson, all of the old guys are leaving the earth. He brought football to a small city that many wonder how they continue to thrive, but he did it. As an NFL fan for many of my 37 years I respect his contributions to the game. May he rest in peace.

  36. Being from Rochester, NY all my life, I know that all of Western, NY owes Mr. Wilson a debt of gratitude and respect. The team he built since 1960 mirrored that of community that surrounded it. Ralph was from Detroit, but he was a true Buffalonian. I hope the league and the State of New York keeps the Bills in Buffalo. Go Buffalo, Win Bills!

  37. Nobody Circles The Wagons Like The Buffalo Bills

    We lost a legend today
    I live in Rochester 50 miles from Buffalo and everyone in this city owes a debt of gratitude to Mr Wilson for bringing the NFL to western and upstate NY

  38. Several afc teams wouldnt be hear if not for Mr Wilson,(raiders, titans, pats, chiefs) especially our BILLS. He has done more for football and western new york than anyone i can think of. Nobody will ever be more respected in BUFFALO than Mr Wilson and nobody will be missed more than him. Thank you for the years of dedication and loyalty you showed us Mr Wilson. R.I.P

  39. The property value of the land adjacent to the proposed location of Farmer’s Field in Los Angeles just went through the roof.

  40. To all the PATHETIC low lives who gave anything on this post a thumbs down, here’s hoping you get yours soon enough…nothing but losers

    RIP Ralph.

  41. Thank You Mr. Wilson for what you did for football and so many of it’s players, coaches, and fans. If there is a heaven, there is an owner’s party waiting for you there. Peace be with you.

  42. RIP Mr. Wilson.

    Now LA has its team. I highly highly doubt the new owner will want to stay in Buffalo. The money could he huge, the 3nd largest TV market in the US is calling with a brand new world class stadium being built. I am they will let the city of Buffalo retain the team colors and name like Cleveland did, but the writing is on the wall and it is about the money.

  43. RIP Ralph and let all the morons that want a team in LA rejoice at least for now. Their not getting the Bills or any other NFL team. They don’t deserve one!

  44. A great AFL man became a great NFL man.

    Before that, he was a World War II veteran. Thank you, Sir! R.I.P.

    And if you put a “thumbs down” to that, you are a complete loser.

  45. R.I.P. RWJr: 1918-2014

    A consummate benefactor of many causes and many teams. Nary a bad thing to say of the man has been ever done so publicly, so, while I may not have known him, I feel quite comfortable in thinking we’re mourning a great man who did a great deal of great things.

    No doubt you’ve earned your stone-etch in history. Thanks for the memories & here’s to hoping you did your best to enjoy as much of your final chapter as you could.

  46. RIP Mr Wilson. Thank you for all you have done for football and WNY. Great guy!!!! (Bills Season Ticket Holder)

  47. As a Browns fan I would just like to pay my respects to Mr Wilson, the Buffalo Bills and their fans. Browns fans will be forever greatful to Mr Wilson and Mr Rooney for voting against the move to Baltimore. He was a great owner and a WW2 Vet. Rest in peace Ralph and let’s KEEP THE BILLS IN BUFFALO!

  48. Can’t say that I know too much about Mr. Wilson, he seemed to be a pretty quiet, private man. I am too, so I respect that. He also seemed to be a man that places loyalty over a price tag, something rare in the world of the wealthy, even rarer with his passing.

    Rest In Peace Mr. Wilson, here’s to the incredible, honorable
    Life you led good sir!

  49. As a Bills fan…thanks for giving us football in Buffalo, and thanks for all you did for the game. You will be missed…

    And much respect to the other teams fans with the well wishes, especially the Cleveland fans. Heres to us both returning to glory…

  50. Goodbye Buffalo, hello Toronto

    The cable giant Rogers (richer than any NFL owner by a factor of 100) needs programming and just paid the NHL about $2 billion for 10 years of rights. They would be happy to drop a billion in Wilson’s family’s lap for the Bills. I don’t gloat over this – it is sad to think that the guy working hard to keep the Bills in Buffalo is himself fighting hard against cancer. Prayers for Jim Kelly – a special guy.

  51. When trying to figure out what is wrong with this country, look at all of the “thumbs down” on threads like these.

    You people disgust me.

    Go ahead. Defend yourselves. Hit thumbs down on me. You’ll still disgust me.

  52. OK I don’t really comment on these, but I’ve noticed and not just on this section, but when you give a thumbs up it autos the thumbs down x2, so all those who are calling the thumbs down ppl scum, they aren’t all scum just a few I’m sure…

    But R.I.P. RW

  53. RIP Ralph Wilson Jr. tailgaters in lot B will be sure to pour a few out for ya before opening game 2014. Thanks for keeping the Bills in BUFFALO where they will STAY.
    Those posting negative comments I recommend you meet said tailgaters in lot B on opening day to have your struggles ironed out.

  54. Lets truly remember a man, who not only pioneered everything we love today in the NFL, but for fostering our $22b culture of tailgating like no owner in the NFL.

    80k nutcases grilling in your honor at 9am (through 14 yrs w/o playoffs) this home opener, will say it all, and we will do it in your name.

    From LOT B, Hammer’s Lot, the Drive 5 gang and the Execess in Moderation Krewe, we’ll raise a libation in yer honor!

    Some men were born great, achieved greatness or had greatness thrust upon them. Ralph was all 3. He will be missed.

  55. Before we get carried away anointing him for sainthood, I will note that I will remember Ralph Wilson for 2 things:

    1) Always holding the threat of moving the Bills, generally to Toronto

    2) Being too cheap, after the great run in the early ’90s, to field an honestly competitive team.

  56. Thank You Mr. Wilson for all of your contributions to the game of football!! A class act from day one and a true football God!!! My condolences to all his family and friends and to the city of buffalo and to all of you Buffalo Bills fans everywhere. With respect, A Miami Dolphin fan since 1970. PS prayers to Jim he deserves so much better. Get healthy Jim!!

  57. What is truly wrong with these people who would thumbs down anything nice about Wilson, or for that matter the ones that thumb dumb anything about Jim kelly? Jealous because NO ONE will ever go to 4 Super Bowls in a row again? Haters be damned!

  58. To all of the vultures anticipating the Bills moving to whatever city you hail from, don’t plan on buying tickets just yet. For the next 6 years, there is a $400 MILLION penalty to move the team out of Buffalo. Add that to the $800 million the team will cost and the overall expense will be prohibitive. That will give Thurman and his friends plenty of time to put financing together to keep the team here.

  59. I feel for the city of Buffalo more than anything. I lived in Northeast Ohio when Art Model took the Browns and ran and remember that Ralph Wilson and the Buffalo Bills were one of the first franchises to speak up and make sure the NFL did right by the city of Cleveland. I will always have a soft spot for those rich guys that go against the grain by doing what they can for the blue collar cities that are getting forgotten like Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit (who lost their owner as well). If us midwesterners don’t have each other we’ve got nobody.

    Thank You Mr. Wilson.

  60. Ralph was an original NFL revolutionary and deserves much respect RIP Ralph, you changed the NFL for the better. For all that want to thumbs down Ralph Wilson in any sort, you will get your karma scumbags……

  61. AL DAVIS ROBBED HIM BLIND IN THE DARYLE LaMONICA TRADE AND THE BOB CHANDLER TRADE . THANK YOU RALPH WILSON FOR CONTRIBUTING TO THE GREATNESS OF THE RAIDERS IN THEIR HEY DAY . RALPH WILSON IS DEAD NOW AND JIM KELLY MAYBE SOON TO FOLLOW . KELLY WAS A BIG COKE HEAD AT U MIAMI AND HE WALKED AROUND CAMPUS WITH A RAZOR BLADE IN HIS SNEAKER TO CUT THE COCAINE . TRUE STORY ! 4 SB LOSSES IN A ROW A RECORD THAT WILL NEVER EVER BE BROKEN !

  62. 95 years old. Paid $25k (about $200K in today’s money). 2 AFL championships. 4 Super Bowl appearances. A life to be proud of.

    RIP, Mr Wilson. A sincere salute to a life to be celebrated.

  63. Even though it was moot and merely a formality, when NFL owners took an official vote on whether or not the Browns would relocate to Baltimore, only two owners voted against: Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ralph Wilson Jr. of the Buffalo Bills.

    R.I.P., Mr. Wilson. You forever have the respect of this Clevelander.

  64. Bucs fan here-
    What a class act and a true gentleman! My deepest condolences to the Wilson family, the Bills organization, and Buffalo Bills fans nationwide!!

    R.I.P. RWJ

  65. Condolences to Buffalo and all Bills fans.

    As mentioned in a comment above he saved the Raiders from financial ruin in the AFL days. He also did the same for the Patriots. Helping those two franchises stay afloat might have saved the entire AFL.

    Without him, there probably isn’t an NFL today, at least not the way we know it.

    RIP Mr. Wilson.

  66. The last of the “Original AFL owners” and a great guy from all accounts. Thank you for all of your contributions that you have given to the NFL as well as the city of Buffalo! Condolences and respect from an Eagles fan!

    Rest In Peace Ralph

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