Ralph Wilson, the owner of the Buffalo Bills for more than 50 years, died on Tuesday at the age of 95, team president Russ Brandon announced in an emotional statement at the NFL owners meeting. Inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2009, Wilson was dedicated to keeping the Bills based in Western New York despite the challenges of competing in a smaller market. The NFL’s system of revenue sharing did a lot to make that possible, but Wilson was open to ideas as the annual game in Toronto to find ways to keep the Bills in Buffalo full-time.
Coupled with Jim Kelly’s renewed battle with cancer, it’s been a tough week for the franchise. With Wilson’s passing, a lot becomes uncertain about its future. There were rumblings that Bon Jovi was among a group of potential buyers a few months ago that are intent on moving the team to Toronto. Not that a full-on relocation into Canada is a sure thing. There are business groups based in Western New York that are expected to vie for the purchase as well.
Wilson was a minority owner of the Detroit Lions until he saw a chance to get his own team in the nascent American Football League in 1959. Wilson’s Bills weren’t technically one of the founding members of the AFL, but they nevertheless joined the same year the league was created. After Bud Adams’ passing late last year, Wilson was the last remaining of the original AFL owners.