Ralph Wilson, Jr. Buffalo Bills
"It shouldn't take much calculating to decide whether to pay $5 or $50,000 for a seat at a football game. I had just such a choice a few years back and, contrary to what you might expect of a sane man, I chose the higher priced seat. It wasn't that I was interested in the view, but the $50,000 entitled me to any seat in the house; I had finally become what I had long wanted to be-the sole owner of a pro football team.”
Ralph Wilson, Jr. was the man responsible for reintroducing pro football to Western New York when, as one of the original owners in the American Football League, he formed the Buffalo Bills in 1959. As the undeniable leader of the Bills, Wilson played a major role among National Football League franchise owners as “the voice of reason,” for his ability to tackle some of the NFL’s toughest issues.
During his tenure as owner of the Bills, Wilson watched two of his teams capture the AFL Championship (1964-1965) and AFC titles in 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1993 on the way to an unprecedented four consecutive appearances in Super Bowls XXV, XXVI, XXVII, and XXVIII. The team also won AFL/AFC Eastern Division titles in 1966, 1980, 1988, 1989, and 1995. The Bills’ 103 regular season wins in the 1990s were second best, behind only the San Francisco 49ers.
Always a football fan, Wilson first entered the pro football world when he purchased a minority share of the Detroit Lions. He later joined Lamar Hunt and the six other AFL originals who collectively became known as “The Foolish Club.”
In the beginning, members of the NFL and the sports media regarded the AFL with considerable skepticism. Even though the early years of the AFL were at best a struggle and Wilson was losing money, he “never once thought of throwing in the towel or selling the team.” Determined to see the league succeed, Wilson even invested in another AFL team to prevent it from financial collapse. “The Foolish Club” did succeed and following initial talks in January 1965 between Wilson and the late Carroll Rosenbloom, then owner of the NFL’s Baltimore Colts, a full merger plan between the two leagues was developed and implemented.
A former President of the AFL, Wilson served on the Expansion Committee of that league and the AFL-NFL Negotiations Committee. He was also prominent in the negotiations, which resulted in a 1977 agreement between the NFL Management Council and the NFL Players Association.
Once described as the “conscience” of the NFL, Wilson also served as the Chairman of NFL Pension Committee and Labor Committee, and on the Board of NFL Charities, the Super Bowl Site Selection Committee, and the NFL’s Expansion Committee.