Ralph Wilson once issued a memorable press release

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As the football-following world continues to remember the late Ralph Wilson Jr., here’s something that many had forgotten.

In 1998, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue fined Wilson $50,000 for making comments critical of game officials.  Via TSN.ca, Wilson reacted to the fine with a stirring rebuke of the boss of the sport.  Here’s the full text of it.

“On December 2nd I received a fax from Commissioner Paul Tagliabue informing me the Bills are being fined $50,000 for criticism on my part of officiating in the last moments of our game with New England.  I described two calls, back-to-back, as probably the worst I have witnessed in the 60 years I have watched pro football.  Those two calls cost the Bills a very important game, one in which our team fought back very courageously from a substantial deficit.

“Society today is more enlightened.  Fair comment and criticism are rampant.  The entire media as a unit is frank and the millions watching a game are frank.

“But the Commissioner lecturing to me as if I were a novice, instead of one who has been involved in football infinitely longer than he has, contends that criticizing a call has ‘destructive and corrosive effects on the game.’

“What is more destructive and corrosive — errant calls in front of millions of viewers or my statements of opinion?  People all over the country registered shock at the way the officials, however honorable their purpose, took the game away from us.  Even the league has admitted to us that the calls near the conclusion of the game were incorrect.

“On Monday morning the Commissioner can sermonize on destruction and corrosion, but he has never experienced the pain of blowing a crucial game due to officiating.  I have yet to decide whether I will pay or challenge the fine.

“But, at 80, I do know I don’t need pompous lectures from the Commissioner and I feet that the $50,000 is not only unwarranted, but punitive in nature.  The next time he may ask me to sit in the corner.”

That was powerful and passionate and the NFL needs owners who will speak in that way from time to time.  Now that Wilson is gone, here’s hoping another owner will be willing when necessary to say what needs to be said.

72 responses to “Ralph Wilson once issued a memorable press release

  1. what great story.
    it’s evident that Wilson speaks the truth. He had integrity.
    As for all of the “stock/share owners” of cheesebay; they cry & cry & cry, without defiance, at the catch Tate made.

  2. Well said Ralph, I couldn’t agree more. When is it time to fine the NFL for the things that they don’t get right? Make them get it right and produce a fair quality game, or take THEIR money away.

  3. People ragged on Wilson and Al Davis and the other guys like them, and there is no denying those men were not in their later years what they were in their prime….BUT…..those were the perfect men to have running teams at the time. Those guys weren’t corporate types, they were football guys. Shame smart-ass college aged fools will rag on them on an internet message board cause they think the whole world began in the mid 90s, cause those fools miss out on a lot with these long time owners.

  4. I read about this after Wilson’s passing and it added to my appreciation for him because one of the plays he had a problem with was a ridicules pass interference call on a Hail Mary. I remember the play and to me it was as bad of a call as the music city miracle. Who calls pass interference on a Hail Mary??? I have never seen that called since.

  5. Baller. Wish more folks had the stones to carry themselves like that. We’d all be better for it.

  6. That, was amazing. Amen. Rest In Peace Mr. Ralph Wilson… May God watch over your Buffalo Bills as you do the same. Never will there be another person in your position… owner, coach, etc. quite like yourself… but here’s hoping many will follow in your footsteps… God Bless.

  7. Love it, wish we had 32 more like him running this league, RIP Ralph Wilson and GO BUFFALO BILLS!!!!

  8. Nope. Now that Al and Ralph are gone that’s it. No more honor in the league, just a corporation lookin’ for a profit.

  9. Great bashing of the commish office for one of the many stupid decisions they’ve made. Some things don’t change. Rip Mr Wilson. Pioneer and legend

  10. That’s Ralph. He would cut with a smile. Especially when is beloved were involved, both the team and the fans. How great is it to have an owner stick up for a team and its die-hard fans like that? We were very lucky. Russ Brandon said it best, “They just don’t make them like Ralph Wilson, they just don’t.”

  11. I couldn’t imagine an owner getting away with that type of a press release these days. The NFL needs more men like RW.

  12. Wow, what a stunning display of badassery. It’s a shame all the trailblazing maverick owners are dying off now around the same time.

  13. I don’t know if I am remembering the right game but I remember the officials blowing the game on a PI call on a hail Mary.
    I am still bitter about that and now I miss Ralph a little more.
    The NFL just became a little more Hollywood and vanilla at his passing.

    Its only fitting if Jim Kelly keeps the Bills in Buffalo and not some suit.

  14. Well said and gets at the core of the problem with commissioners. They have no skin in the game except worrying about how their tenure will be judged.

  15. Mike Florio: Thank you for writing about this important piece of history from Owner Ralph Wilson Jr’s Legacy!!

    This letter shows how much Mr. Wilson cared about the Sport, The Buffalo Bills, City of Buffalo and It’s Fans. #GoBills

  16. Standing applause! Ralph Wilson was the man. The NFL lost a great ambassador to the game this week. We should all pay him back by trying to keep his team in Buffalo. #KeepTheBillsInBuffalo

  17. Now THAT was a response to remember. Gentlemanly yet accurate and to the point. RIP Mr. Wilson.

  18. Hurrah for him! good job….
    That type of intelligence and passion unfortunately is not easy to find.

  19. One word describes Wilson’s comments….BRILLIANT!! As for “here’s hoping another owner will be willing when necessary to say what needs to be said”…I have a feeling your thoughts might be different if Jerry Jones says it.

  20. We’re going to miss Ralph…for many reasons…here in WNY. He was truly a game changer.

  21. Ralph Wilson and Al Davis was the best owners the league ever had, they were wise and spoke their meaning. Wilson was classy, Davis was a renegade – but both had great respect of each other and mostly agreed.. I hope Bills will get strong and stay classy – Raiders I hope will get more classy, more maverickish and get strong.. The game need these two teams as they are a great part of the NFLs history…

  22. I remember that game as one of the worst officiated I have ever seen. Several clearly bad calls late in the game, all going in one direction. If the NFL didn’t investigate that game for corruption, then shame on them.

    Since then, of course, we’ve been treated to multiple other unbelievably bad pro-Patriots*-called games (the Tuck Rule, the 2004 AFCCG with the Colts, the 2007 Ravens Monday Nighter, etc.), so who knows, maybe it was just the start of an era (of cheating, that is)…..

  23. The 1998 game was amazing. The Patriots just had a Monday Night Miracle vs Marino’s Dolphins and then hosted the Bills on Sunday Night on ESPN the following week. Bledsoe had a broken finger and all. Then the Terry Glenn interference call in the endzone was clearly questionable. Probably a bad call.

    BUT that doesn’t excuse the Bills coaches losing their collective minds and storming off the field before the conclusion of the game. That was hilarious.

  24. I still remember that game vividly. Week 13 of the 1998 season and after a shocking 0-3 start, the Bills fought back to enter a tie for the AFC East lead with a win over the Patriots. There were a bunch of iffy calls late in the game (including a catch that was CLEARLY out of bounds, after which one of the side judges was actually picked up by the TV mic saying “just give it to him”) but despite them all Buffalo was up 21 – 17 with only seconds left and a Hail Mary was New England’s only hope. Ball went up – swatted down, game over.

    Except it wasn’t. The same “just give it to him” sideline ref threw a flag and called pass interference on safety Henry Jones. It was the first time and remains to this day the only time in my football-watching life that I have seen pass interference called on a Hail Mary. The penalty gave New England one more play from the one with no time left on the clock. Drew Bledsoe completed a pass Ben Coates in the end zone. Game over. Even New England corner Ty Law said after the game that he understood the Bills’ frustration and he’d never seen a call like that on a Hail Mary.

    Great story about Ralph and just one of the many reasons he’ll be missed.

  25. Halas, Rooney, Murchison, and Wilson these guys were giants, pioneers. Now the game is being run by spoiled rich kids who never had to earn a living. Idiots like Jones and Irsay who embarrass themselves and the game while a mop haired commissioner trys to eliminate tackling in order avoid liability suits. The NFL makes money but the quality is gone.

  26. He and Mara are one of the reasons I didn’t mind as much if the Ravens lost to their team.

    The same can not be said for Mr. 2-tone French Cuff man Kraft.

  27. I was at the game in question. It wasn’t a Hail Mary it was a 27 yard pass from Bledsoe to terry Glenn. Glenn was caught in mid air and carried out of the field of play by the bills safety. Deal with it Jills fans

  28. Long forgotten:

    The Bills also received a favorable interference call in that game. Andre Reed got a gift call inside the 5 yard line that set up the Bills with a 1st&goal and easily got them the lead with 6 mins to go in that game.

  29. After witnessing the debacle of the Fail Mary Pass, I wish Mark Murphy would have had to same set of balls to set forward and call out the league on what is perhaps the worst call in officiating history.

    On second thought, the worst call in officiating history was Drew Pearson’s push off for a touchdown to defeat the Vikings but that’s different, it was the Vikings after all.

  30. there are still men and women of courage and integrity who live today. we can all ask ourselves “am i one of them?”. do you leave the petty insults for the young minded to banter and speak up with courage and dignity when compelled to?
    it bears mentioning that ralph stood up for an injustice by confronting the individual openly, spoke to the particular actions of that person specifically without leveling insults about the commissioner’s overall character, thus maintaining his own.

  31. I always found it ridiculous that people thought that the pass interference at the end of that game was a bad call. Their only argument is that you just don’t call it at the end of the game like that. Rules are rules and they apply at all times. Pass interference shouldn’t be called on hail mary’s when you have a group of players fighting for position and all jumping up to make a play on the ball. That is not what happened on this particular play. On this play Bledsoe threw the ball to the chest of Terry Glenn in the end zone and the defender ran through Terry Glenn never attempting a play on the ball. It was pass interference at any point in the game and wasn’t like a traditional hail mary. In reality it wasn’t really a hail mary, it was just a deep pass on 4th down at the end of the game.

    The other play was questionable but in no way an easy call. After watching the play multiple times it appeared that the pass was completed but the receiver was short of the first down. It was definitely a hard call for the officials to make without the benefit of replay.

  32. Ah, the “just give it to ’em” game. I remember it well.

    Never saw referees run so fast before. They were sprinting, even, as they escorted the patriots down the field.

  33. Sounds like a great guy. Nothing better than an owner who is passionate about the game for the right reasons and above all, loyal to the fans by not moving their team.

  34. Sure Ralph Wilson should be recognized for being one of the founders of the old AFL and playing a role in the ultimate merger between the NFL-AFL (as well as helping Al Davis keep the Raiders in Oakland)–however as an owner of the Buffalo Bills he was far from an outstanding owner–Wilson put making money first before winning time and time again. Unlike the Rooney family in Pittsburgh who were committed to putting a competitive/winning team on the field-Wilson was the opposite. Other than the mid 1960’s and early 1990’s the Bills have been mediocre at best. When the architect of the Super Bowl teams GM Bill Polian didn’t get along with the team’s treasurer-Wilson fired Polian–the result now being 14 straight years out of the playoffs. In the early 1980’s coach Chuck Knox could not negotiate a contract extension with Wilson despite the team making the playoffs several times–hence he left to go to Seattle-and the Bills went on to mediocrity again-hopefully with new ownership the Bills can be run in such a way as to reward the NFL’s most loyal and devout fans something Wilson couldn’t/wouldn’t do–and that’s building a winning team

  35. Thanks PFT for posting this. I’ll never forget that game or forgive Walt Coleman. That guy must be Kraft’s cousin. The pass interference wasn’t even the worst call that day. Shawn Jefferson was a yard short and a foot out of bounds on a 4th down play. It was the “Just give it to ’em” non-catch. Flutie and Andre both called it out in post game interviews. The hose-job that day cost the Bills the division and they had to travel to Miami for a playoff game that should have been at the Ralph. That was also the day I started hating Pete Carroll because the D-bag went for two when the Bills refused to come back out for the extra point. Ralph’s press release was awesome. I remember Oberman saying that the only thing it was missing was Ralph telling Tags “I was creating the AFL when you were in diapers, buddy”.

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