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"Count me in with Buffalo"
March 25, 2014 7:39 PM   Subscribe

Ralph Wilson, owner of the Buffalo Bills since 1959, has passed away at the age of 95. Wilson was the last of the eight AFL team owners known as the "Foolish Club," and is notable for his continued support of other small market teams, including voting against moving the Cleveland Browns in 1995 (one of only two to do so), and subsequently hosting a Browns Day in Buffalo. He saved the Oakland Raiders from bankruptcy, and insisted that the AFL postpone their games the day after JFK's assassination. As positive memories were shared on twitter from around the league, Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY, has left a light on in his honor.
posted by troika (29 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

posted by proneSMK at 7:42 PM on March 25

posted by Cash4Lead at 7:43 PM on March 25

posted by Iridic at 7:48 PM on March 25

posted by angelchrys at 7:57 PM on March 25

posted by none of these will bring disaster at 8:10 PM on March 25

posted by valkane at 8:12 PM on March 25

posted by dhammond at 8:33 PM on March 25

posted by NedKoppel at 8:40 PM on March 25

. Ugh, I hope this doesn't mean the end of the Bills. Wilson was old school cool; I always respected his support of the Browns' organization and the fact that he was one of only two owners to vote against Cleveland leaving. Small market teams deserve to exist alongside the big city behemoths, but I worry that the almighty worship of the dollar means their days are numbered.
posted by karlos at 8:43 PM on March 25 [5 favorites]

There have been worries for a while now that whoever ended up owning the Bills after Wilson's death would quickly move the team someplace more profitable. Jim Kelly - one of the best players in Bills history - has said that he hopes to counter that by getting people "lined up" to buy the team when Wilson passed on. But now that the day is finally here, Kelly's fighting for his life - reports are that he's going for surgery to combat his relapsed cancer as soon as Thursday.

posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:55 PM on March 25 [5 favorites]


True story: back in the day, I worked at a local grocery store in western New York. One day, a customer came in buying all of this Buffalo Bills merchandise - t-shirts, a little toy truck, hats, etc. I hadn't seen that before, but okay. After ringing it up, I told the customer the total and he handed me his Buffalo Bills credit card. I said, "Wow, you must really like the Bills." The woman with this customer said, "He owns the Bills." The name on the credit card: Ralph Wilson.

I feel like the Bills are a joke nationally (fair enough) but as an outsider, it's hard to understand what the team means to the city and the region. I saw someone tweet that he made western New Yorkers a family once a week several times a year and I think that's a great way to describe it.
posted by kat518 at 8:58 PM on March 25 [9 favorites]

It was impossible for me to care about the NFL until Freshman year of college, when my roommate more or less forced me to get into it. This tiny, a capela-singing gay Indian-American guy was so passionate about the Bills, and that enthusiasm so infectious, that I remain a fan to this day.

Wilson was awesome. Move that team and I'll have knives out.

posted by Navelgazer at 9:09 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]

The homeless, disembodied ghosts of the Oilers pay their respects to one of the originals...

posted by jim in austin at 9:12 PM on March 25

Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish: "There have been worries for a while now that whoever ended up owning the Bills after Wilson's death would quickly move the team someplace more profitable."

If I had to guess, I imagine that Toronto gets a football team in the next couple of years.
posted by fireoyster at 12:10 AM on March 26

posted by Svejk at 1:20 AM on March 26

posted by newdaddy at 1:27 AM on March 26

posted by sfts2 at 3:49 AM on March 26

posted by magstheaxe at 4:07 AM on March 26

First link should probably go to this.
posted by pracowity at 4:33 AM on March 26

Yeah I guess the article was moved? Old link was throwing a 404. Thanks, I substituted the URL.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:40 AM on March 26

@fireoyster: The Bills were playing a few "home" games in Toronto for the past several years, but ended that after this most recent season because attendance was poor. Most people there were WNY Bills fans who saw the games at the Ralph anyway.

The Bills just reupped their lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium for 10 years; they have 9 years to go and the stadium is putting in $130M in renovations. Plus if they leave early, the owners will be on the hook for a $400M penalty. Chump change to billionaires, maybe, but Buffalo wants its Bills to stay. After recently moving here, and seeing how much the team means to this city, I hope potential buyers realize it too.
posted by none of these will bring disaster at 6:19 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


The Bills leaving would be devastating to the area. WNY strongly ties it's identity to the Bills and Sabres, maybe because it has been a downtrodden former steel city for the past few decades and has had nothing else noteworthy to latch on to. My husband is from just down the Thruway in Syracuse and marvels at the range and variety of sports fans in WNY. No one is "too cool" to love the Sabres or Bills.

Hopefully the little resurgence going on in the region will make it less likely to happen. Buffalo looks more promising today than it has it years. That said, most Bills fans I know have been dreading the day Ralph passed.
posted by ridiculous at 7:29 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]

I live in Western NY now but I grew up in the NYC area and remain a Giants fan. Nevertheless, Ralph Wilson was one of the great owners in football and I hope the team stays in Buffalo.

But now that the day is finally here, Kelly's fighting for his life - reports are that he's going for surgery to combat his relapsed cancer as soon as Thursday.

The news today is that surgery has been postponed. If you're of the praying persuasion, you need to be doing that now.
posted by tommasz at 7:56 AM on March 26

I feel like the Bills are a joke nationally

I don't think so, and I don't think other NFL fans do, either. The Bills haven't been very good for a long time, but that's not the point. The Buffalo Bills are the Good Guys and everyone knows it. You cheer against them when they play Your Team but otherwise, hey, it's fun to see the Bills succeed. There are teams ready-made for fan hatred (Oakland by design, Dallas because fuck Dallas, the Patriots because their coach is pure concentrated evil in a hoodie, Seattle because neon socks, etc) but Buffalo is not on that list. I mean, you hate the Browns for their pernicious front-office incompetence, the Bengals for their persistent mediocrity and awful helmets, the Rams and the Chiefs for being from the middle of nowhere... You can make a case against NFL team. But it's hard to make a case for hating the Bills.

And that's mostly because of two people: Jim Kelly and Ralph Wilson.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:43 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]

It sounds like the $400 million buy-out clause is not true.

Happy to hear that non-Buffalo people have some affection for the Bills. I don't know a whole lot about it but I would like it if people in Buffalo could have public ownership of the team like the Green Bay Packers. I think that's a non-starter as far as league rules go but Ralph Wilson was an advocate for small market teams, so I think it would be pretty rough if the Bills stopped playing at the stadium that bears his name.
posted by kat518 at 12:43 PM on March 26

Plus "the Bills" would suddenly make as much sense as a team name as the Utah Jazz or the Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:53 PM on March 26

Born and raised in Buffalo this is a sad week with the news about both Ralph Wilson and Jim Kelly. The Bills really do mean so much to that city; it would be devastating if they left.
posted by misskaz at 12:55 PM on March 26

I also think it's a testament to my hometown that Jim Kelly was not happy about being drafted by Buffalo, and in fact originally went off to the USFL to avoid having to play there. But he grew to not only love the city but continued to live there even after his football career ended.
posted by misskaz at 12:59 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]

The thing I loved about the Bills was their off field clothing. It was all kind of awesome. Nowdays they would have tumblrs dedicated to them.
posted by srboisvert at 4:15 PM on March 26

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