Ralph Cookerly Wilson Jr. (October 17, 1918 – March 25, 2014) was an American businessman and sports executive. He was best known as the founder and owner of the Buffalo Bills, a team in the National Football League (NFL). He was one of the founding owners of the American Football League (AFL), the league with which the NFL merged in 1970, and was the last of the original AFL owners to own his team. At the time of his death he was the oldest owner in the NFL, at age 95, and the third-longest tenured owner in NFL history (over 54 years, behind the 63 years George Halas owned the Chicago Bears and almost equal to the 55 years Art Rooney owned the Pittsburgh Steelers, although Rooney's ownership and team operations were interrupted in the 1940s due to some complicated dealings). He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Wilson speaking at his Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony in 2009
|Born:||October 17, 1918|
|Died:||March 25, 2014 (aged 95)|
Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan
University of Michigan
|Career highlights and awards|
|Service/||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1941–46|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
He graduated from the University of Virginia (where he joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity) and attended the University of Michigan Law School. He was a 1936 graduate of Detroit University School, now University Liggett School. During World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served in the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters. After the war ended, he took over his father's insurance business and invested in Michigan area mines and factories. He eventually purchased several manufacturing outlets, construction firms, television and radio stations, and founded Ralph Wilson Industries.
A minority owner of the Detroit Lions, Wilson got wind of Lamar Hunt's plans for a new league, the American Football League, to challenge the NFL. He tried to put together a team in Miami, but was turned down. His next choice was Buffalo, where the AFL's first choice of owner, Pat McGroder, had declined to start a team. In September 1959, Wilson sent Hunt a telegram with the words, "Count me in with Buffalo.” He named his new team the Bills, after a previous team that had played in the All-America Football Conference from 1946 to 1949. On October 28, 1959 the Buffalo Bills officially became the seventh AFL team. Wilson made professional football a resounding success in a "small market", signing such stars as Cookie Gilchrist, Jack Kemp, and Tom Sestak and Hall of Famers Billy Shaw and O. J. Simpson.
He was a guiding force in AFL policies that ensured success, such as gate and television revenue sharing. As one of only three AFL owners to be on relatively solid financial ground (along with Hunt and Bud Adams), Wilson lent the financially troubled Oakland Raiders $400,000 and was also willing to lend money to Billy Sullivan of the New England Patriots. Wilson helped keep those franchises afloat, likely saving the entire league from folding (the AFL was unique among professional football leagues in that not a single AFL franchise folded in its history). In November 1963, Wilson along with then Raiders general manager Al Davis lobbied successfully to have AFL games postponed the Sunday after President John F. Kennedy's assassination; NFL games were played as scheduled.
Wilson was most concerned about his team's financial solvency and was largely indifferent to the Bills' on-field success; O. J. Simpson later noted of his contract negotiations with the Bills that when Simpson's agent told Wilson of Simpson's potential to make the team a championship contender, Wilson shot back "What good would a championship do me? All that means is everybody wants a raise."
In 1989, after league commissioner Pete Rozelle announced his retirement, Wilson was on the six-member committee who was tasked with nominating potential candidates for the open position. Wilson's nominee, his former quarterback Jack Kemp, declined to pursue the post, as he had already taken a position in the U.S. Cabinet. (The job ultimately went to league attorney Paul Tagliabue.)
After the original naming rights deal on the Bills' current stadium expired in 1998, the facility's name was changed from Rich Stadium to Ralph Wilson Stadium; it would not receive its current name of New Era Field until 2016, after his death and the subsequent sale of the team. According to an article on msn.com, Wilson, described as "stubborn", turned down numerous naming rights deals for the stadium.
Wilson was one of the league's most outspoken owners, even near the end of his life. Wilson voted against the Cleveland Browns' relocation to Baltimore in 1995. He publicly rebuked NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in an open letter in 1998 over league policy, which disallowed criticism of referees, after poor officiating had a direct impact on a Bills loss that season. He was one of two owners (the Cincinnati Bengals' Mike Brown being the other) to oppose the league's former (pre-2011) collective bargaining agreement. (Wilson and Brown were commended for their foresight when the agreement later led to the 2011 NFL Lockout.) He also negotiated a deal to have his team play home games in Toronto from 2008 until 2014.
Wilson retired from the position of president in 2001, giving operational control to General Manager Tom Donahoe; Wilson retook control of the team's operations in 2006. Wilson again retired as team president, this time surrendering all control of the team's operations to Russ Brandon, on January 1, 2013. He continued to consult with Brandon on team and league operations up until his death.
Wilson maintained a permanent residence in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan with his wife, Mary McLean, whom he met in 1989. He had three daughters from his first marriage to Janet McGregor Wilson, two of whom became involved in team business: Linda Bogdan (1948–2009), Pro Football's first female scout, was the franchise's Corporate Vice President until her death. Another daughter, Christy Wilson Hofmann, served as a consultant in the area of merchandising. The third daughter, Edith "Dee Dee" Wilson Jr., was never involved with the franchise. The highest ranking relative in the organization was Mary Owen, Wilson's niece, who served as Vice President of Strategic Planning until the team was sold. Wilson and his first wife divorced in 1970 after 26 years of marriage and shortly after their youngest child turned 19.
Beginning in the 1990s, Wilson maintained a small, but very valuable, art collection, including works by Claude Monet, Edouard Manet and Alfred Sisley; his collection was valued in the tens of millions of dollars.
Wilson broke his hip in a fall at his home in July 2011, causing him to miss the Bills' home opener for the first time in franchise history. The injury left him wheelchair-bound. He issued a statement saying that he was undergoing physical therapy and hoped to attend at least one game during the season. Wilson also stated that he was "very surprised" at the team's 41-7 victory over Kansas City in Week 1. He was hospitalized in August and early September 2012 with an unspecified infection and missed the entire 2012 season. In April 2013, Wilson was reported as "doing really well," with a statement that he hoped to make the 2013 home opener.
Wilson died at his home on March 25, 2014 of natural causes at the age of 95. His estate held the franchise in trust until its sale to Buffalo Sabres owner Terrence Pegula and his wife in September 2014. The proceeds from the sale will be used to form an endowment for the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, which will fund charitable causes in the Buffalo and Detroit areas, in accordance with Wilson's instructions for the money set forth prior to his death. The organization was overseen for a few months by his niece Mary Owen until its sale to the Pegulas was completed on October 8, 2014.
On January 31, 2009, Wilson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with former Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith. The Hall of Fame game, played the day after the 2009 inductions, strayed from the usual AFC–NFC format and instead was contested by two original American Football League teams: the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers). This matchup was announced after Wilson was elected. Like Wilson, Titans owner Bud Adams was the only owner his team has ever had, and the two were the only living members of the "Foolish Club", the founders of the original eight AFL teams. Wilson and Adams are two of only four men who have owned a professional football franchise continuously for fifty years (George Halas, who owned the Chicago Bears from 1920 until his death in 1983, is the third, and William Clay Ford Sr., Wilson's neighbor, who owned the Detroit Lions from 1961 to 2014, is the fourth).
The Hall of Fame game on Sunday, August 9, was a kickoff to the 2009 season, which would have been the 50th season of play for the AFL, if the NFL had not merged with it. Wilson was officially inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, August 8, 2009 with ESPN icon Chris Berman acting as his "presenter". Wilson was scheduled to receive his Hall of Fame ring in a halftime ceremony during the Bills game against the Cleveland Browns on October 11, 2009. However, Wilson cancelled the event at the last moment, without notifying the press or fans, and no explanation was given. It was widely speculated that Wilson cancelled the event out of fear of being booed by Bills fans for the team's chronic poor performance on the field and a series of highly unpopular managerial decisions. He was eventually presented with the ring on November 1.
Wilson donated US$2.5 million to the construction of a "Pro Football Research and Preservation Center" at the Hall of Fame; the facility was named in Wilson's honor on August 13, 2012.
Wilson was also involved for a number of years in the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing both as a breeder and as an owner in France and the United States. He bred Santa Anita Derby winner Jim French, as well as two-year-old European superstar Arazi, winner of the 1991 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and European Horse of the Year. Another horse, Outta Here, raced in the 2003 Kentucky Derby and finished in seventh place.
The 1999 Buffalo Bills season was the 30th season for the team in the National Football League (NFL) and 40th overall. It would be the final season that Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas, the last three players remaining from the Bills' Super Bowl teams were on the same team together. All three were released at the end of the season due to salary cap reasons.
The Bills surrendered only 229 points (14.3 points per game), the lowest total in franchise history in a 16-game season, and second-fewest in the league. Buffalo's 2,675 passing yards and 4,045 total yards allowed were both the fewest totals in the NFL in 1999.
The Bills finished in second place in the AFC East and finished the National Football League's 1999 season with a record of 11 wins and 5 losses. The Bills qualified for the postseason for the seventh time in the decade. They would lose to the Titans in the game called "The Music City Miracle".
The team would not make the playoffs again until 2017, where they were defeated by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Wild-Card round.2000 Buffalo Bills season
The 2000 Buffalo Bills season was the team's 41st and 31st as part of the National Football League. The Bills total offense ranked 9th in the league and their total defense ranked 3rd in the league. The 2000 season was the first since the 1987 season that long-time Bills players Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and Thurman Thomas were not on the team together, as all were released just days after the Bills were eliminated from the 1999 playoffs. Smith and Reed signed with the Redskins, while Thomas signed with the Dolphins. The Buffalo Bills finished in fourth place in the AFC East and finished the National Football League's 2000 season with a record of 8 wins and 8 losses. Though the Bills were 7-4 after eleven games, they lost their next four in a row, only avoiding a losing season in the final game of the year. The 2000 season marked a turning point in Buffalo's history.
From 2000 until 2016, the Bills would fail to make the playoffs, a streak that would end in 2017. After the 2000 season ended, general manager John Butler left the team to take the same position with the San Diego Chargers.2001 Buffalo Bills season
The 2001 Buffalo Bills season was the team's 42nd season. Previous head coach Wade Phillips was relieved of his duties as coach and replaced by Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. They finished the season at 3-13 and last in the AFC East division for the first time since 1985.
John Butler, who had been the Bills general manager from 1993–2000, left to take the same position with the San Diego Chargers. Butler was replaced by Tom Donahoe, who would remain with the Bills through the 2005 season.
In the wake of Buffalo's quarterback controversy, Doug Flutie was released by the Bills, prior to the season and followed Butler to San Diego. Buffalo named Rob Johnson their starting quarterback for the 2001 season, which would ultimately be his last in Buffalo. Bills defensive end Marcellus Wiley, linebacker Sam Rogers, and linebacker John Holecek also left Buffalo for San Diego in 2001, leaving a gap in Buffalo's defense. The special teams also saw a major overhaul. Placekicker Steve Christie was also among the defectors to San Diego, forcing the Bills to sign rookie Jake Arians (son of longtime offensive coordinator Bruce Arians) as a replacement, then after several weeks of Arians's poor play, Shayne Graham. Chris Mohr left for the Atlanta Falcons and was replaced by Brian Moorman, who would stay with the team for the next eleven seasons.2006 Buffalo Bills season
The 2006 Buffalo Bills season was the franchise’s 47th season as a football team, 37th in the National Football League and first under both general manager Marv Levy and head coach Dick Jauron. Levy, who previously coached the team from 1986-1997, leading them to four straight AFC Championships and four straight Super Bowl appearances from 1990-1993, replaced Tom Donahoe, who was fired shortly after the end of the 2005 season, with hopes that his 11 full seasons as Bills head coach would improve a franchise that failed to make the playoffs during Donahoe’s tenure. Jauron, who previously coached the Chicago Bears from 1999-2003, replaced Mike Mularkey, who resigned shortly after Donahoe’s firing, citing family reasons and disagreement over the direction of the organization. The Bills hoped to improve on their 5-11 record from 2005, while also hoping to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999, but a 30-29 loss to the Tennessee Titans eliminated the team from playoff contention, extending their playoff drought to seven straight seasons, tying a record set from 1967-1973. For the second consecutive season, the Bills’ opening day starting quarterback was J. P. Losman.2007 Buffalo Bills season
The 2007 Buffalo Bills season was the 38th season for the team in the National Football League and their 48th season overall.
The Bills finished their 2007 season with a record of 7–9 and tied their 7–9 record in 2006, but failed to qualify for the playoffs, and continues a playoff appearance drought since the 1999–2000 season. The 8-year playoff drought became the longest such stretch in team history. The opening game of the season was notable in that tight end Kevin Everett was injured on a kickoff. Everett sustained a fracture and dislocation of his cervical spine that his doctors characterized as "life-threatening" the day after the injury, and stated it was likely to leave him with permanent neurological impairment. However, on September 11, 2007, Everett showed significant movement in his arms and legs, which led doctors to speculate that he might eventually be able to walk again. Indeed, Everett walked in public for the first time at Ralph Wilson Stadium before the home finale against the New York Giants on December 23, 2007.2008 Buffalo Bills season
The 2008 Buffalo Bills season was the 39th season for the team in the National Football League and their 49th season overall. The team finished with a record of 7–9 for the third consecutive year. It started the season 5–1 before a 2–8 stretch to finish the season.
After a 5–1 beginning to the season, starting quarterback Trent Edwards suffered a concussion in Week Five at Arizona after an Adrian Wilson hit. Edwards had started the year throwing 4 touchdowns and two interceptions through the first five games. After the injury, he threw 7 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, before missing two of the final four games of the season with a groin injury. After their 4–0 start, the Bills won only three of their final 12 games of the year.
Despite strong years from second-year running back Marshawn Lynch (1,036 rushing yards, 1,336 yards from scrimmage) and wide receiver Lee Evans (1,017 receiving yards), the team was eliminated from playoff contention in week 15, which secured their ninth straight year without a playoff appearance.2008 NHL Winter Classic
The 2008 NHL Winter Classic (known via corporate sponsorship as the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic) was an outdoor regular season National Hockey League (NHL) game, part of the Winter Classic series, played on January 1, 2008, at Ralph Wilson Stadium (now known as New Era Field) in Orchard Park, New York. The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 2–1, in a shootout, on a goal by captain Sidney Crosby. It was the first outdoor regular season professional ice hockey game to be played in the United States, and was sponsored by AMP Energy. It was the successor to the 2003 Heritage Classic, the NHL's first regular season outdoor game, played in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game was televised in the United States on NBC and in Canada on CBC and RDS. Due to the snowy conditions, the game was at the time colloquially referred to as the "Ice Bowl" by residents of the area and Sabres' fans.
The game, which was played at a temporary ice rink built on the football field, set an NHL attendance record of 71,217. The Sabres held a Winter Classic "house party" at HSBC Arena (now KeyBank Center) during the game where another 11,000 fans saw the game shown live on the arena's video scoreboard with synched-up audio from the team's radio coverage. The Buffalo Sabres Alumni Hockey Team played a pre-game at the HSBC Arena as part of the house party festivities. Buffalo Sabres anthem singer Doug Allen sang the Canadian national anthem, as is customary at Sabres home games. Irish tenor Ronan Tynan performed "God Bless America" before the game at the stadium.
The success of the event has led to subsequent outdoor hockey games being scheduled and helped establish the Winter Classic as an annual NHL tradition.2009 Buffalo Bills season
The 2009 Buffalo Bills season was the 50th Professional Football season for the original American Football League team, and its 40th in the NFL. The Bills were unable to improve upon their third consecutive 7–9 regular season record (2006, 2007 and 2008) and failed to make the playoffs for the 10th consecutive year, the longest standing playoff drought in the NFL. Dick Jauron returned as head coach for a fourth season, the first Bills coach since Marv Levy to receive a contract extension beyond three years. He was fired on November 17 after a 3–6 start and replaced on an interim basis by defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who was fired at the end of the season, but not before starting Ryan Fitzpatrick for the rest of the season.2011 Buffalo Bills season
The 2011 Buffalo Bills season was the team's 42nd season in the National Football League and its 52nd overall. The Bills improved on their 4–12 record from the 2010 season, winning six games; however, the team also missed the playoffs for the twelfth consecutive season; the team had not made the playoffs since 1999, the longest standing playoff drought in the NFL at the time. Buffalo played in the Eastern division of the American Football Conference (AFC).2012 Buffalo Bills season
The 2012 Buffalo Bills season was the franchise's 43rd season in the National Football League, the 53rd overall and the third under head coach Chan Gailey. The team had hoped to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999, but failed and continue to own the NFL's longest playoff drought.
2012 was the final year on the Bills' current lease with Ralph Wilson Stadium as well as the final year on the current Bills Toronto Series agreement. The league had approved an additional five-year extension of the Toronto series, extending through 2017, on the condition that the Bills and Rogers Communications come to an agreement extending the series, a condition that both sides have indicated willingness to do. The Bills and the league are demanding significant and expensive renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium as a condition of renewing the stadium lease. The Buffalo News reported renovations could top 200 million dollars. The Bills and Erie County (the owners of Ralph Wilson Stadium) missed the deadline for a long-term agreement in September 2012. However, on December 21, the Bills agreed with Erie County to a 10-year lease on Ralph Wilson Stadium, extending it through for at least another 7 years.2013 Buffalo Bills season
The 2013 Buffalo Bills season was the franchise's 44th season in the National Football League and the first under head coach Doug Marrone. It was also the final season under the ownership of Ralph Wilson, who died in March 2014 at the age of 95. The team equaled their record from 2012 and missed the playoffs, increasing their playoff drought to 14 seasons. This was the first year of renewed leases on Ralph Wilson Stadium and for the Bills Toronto Series, both of which were signed in the preceding offseason. The Toronto series was originally set to expire in 2017, but was cancelled in December 2014; the lease on Ralph Wilson Stadium expires in 2022 and will presumably be the last agreement with the aging stadium, as the lease specifies that the process of exploring a new stadium begins during the lease period. The Bills also started the 2013 season with a new starting quarterback, first-round draft pick EJ Manuel, after previous starter Ryan Fitzpatrick refused a pay cut and was subsequently released.2014 Buffalo Bills season
The 2014 Buffalo Bills season was the franchise's 45th season in the National Football League, 55th season of competition, second under head coach Doug Marrone and the first in franchise history without Ralph Wilson as owner. The Bills improved on their 6–10 record from 2013, finishing with a 9–7 record, their first winning season since 2004, but it still didn't help the team make the playoffs.2015 Buffalo Bills season
The 2015 Buffalo Bills season was the franchise’s 56th overall season as a football team, 46th in the National Football League, third under leadership of general manager Doug Whaley and first under new head coach Rex Ryan. It was also the first full season under the ownership of Terry and Kim Pegula (who also own the Buffalo Sabres), having purchased the Bills partway through 2014 after the death of longtime owner Ralph Wilson in March at the age of 95.
The Bills began their season with an open competition for the starting quarterback position after Kyle Orton, the starter for most of the 2014 campaign, retired during the offseason, so the team acquired free agent Tyrod Taylor, a former backup quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, who won the competition over incumbent second-string quarterback EJ Manuel and trade acquisition Matt Cassel, the latter of whom the team later traded along with a seventh-round pick in 2017 to the Dallas Cowboys, in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick in 2017.
Despite Ryan's bold prediction of the Bills making the playoffs at his introductory press conference, the Bills were unable to do so in their first season with Ryan as head coach, finishing with a record of 8-8 (the team’s first since 2002), making it the 16th straight season without a playoff appearance, which became the longest active in major professional sports after Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays broke their 22-year playoff drought on September 25, 2015.Bills Toronto Series
The Bills Toronto Series was a series of National Football League (NFL) games featuring the Buffalo Bills played at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The original series began in the 2008 season and ran through 2012. The Bills were originally scheduled to play eight (later reduced to seven) home games over five seasons as part of the agreement, which included one regular-season game each of the five years and one pre-season game on the first, third and (originally) fifth year of the series. This included the first regular-season NFL game played in Canada, which the Bills lost to the Miami Dolphins. The agreement was renewed for five additional years, with an annual regular season game and one preseason game, on January 29, 2013, but following the 2013 contest it was announced that the 2014 game had been postponed for a year. On December 3, 2014, it was announced that a deal had been reached to terminate the remainder of the contract, ending the Bills' experiment in Toronto.The series was conceived by a group that included former Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Ted Rogers of Rogers Communications and Larry Tanenbaum of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.Buffalo Sabres Alumni Hockey Team
The Buffalo Sabres Alumni Hockey Team is an independent barnstorming hockey (and occasionally basketball) team located in Buffalo, New York. Its roster consists entirely of retired National Hockey League players, mostly former members of the Buffalo Sabres. The team is operated by the Buffalo Sabres Alumni Association.
The team plays teams assembled by various local organizations around Western New York primarily as charity fundraisers. Its uniform is identical to the classic "blue and gold" Sabres home (white) uniform from 1970 to 1996.
The team considers KeyBank Center to be its home arena but rarely plays there.
One of its more recent and most notable games took place on March 29, 2007, when the team played a home game against the Buffalo Police Department as a fundraiser for police officer Patty Parete, who suffered spinal injury from a gunshot wound. The game drew over 7,000 fans as the Sabres Alumni won.
The Alumni Team played at HSBC Arena as part of the pre-game events for the 2008 NHL Winter Classic held at Ralph Wilson Stadium on January 1, 2008. They were also a part of the 2013-14 AHL Outdoor Classic as the opponent of the Rochester Americans alumni team in December 2013.
One of the key initiatives of the Buffalo Sabres Alumni is to fund-raise and support their family of scholarships they award to high school seniors attending college.Edward Abramoski
Edward "Abe" Abramoski (born 1933 in Erie, Pennsylvania) is an American Athletic Trainer, known for serving as the head Head Athletic Trainer for the Buffalo Bills in the American Football League and the NFL for a total of 37 years. His service to the team and the City of Buffalo was formally recognized in 1999 with the inclusion of his name on the Wall of Fame at Ralph Wilson Stadium.New Era Field
New Era Field, originally Rich Stadium, is a stadium in Orchard Park, New York, a suburb south of Buffalo. Opened in 1973, it is the home of the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League (NFL). New Era Cap Company holds the stadium's naming rights.Ralph Wilson Nimmons Jr.
Ralph Wilson Nimmons Jr. (September 14, 1938 – November 24, 2003) was an American lawyer and United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.Virginia Halas McCaskey
Virginia Halas McCaskey (born January 5, 1923) is the principal owner of the Chicago Bears of the National Football League. She is the eldest child of former Bears coach and owner George Halas, who left the team to his daughter upon his death in 1983, and Minnie Bushing Halas. After the death of Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson in March 2014, she became the oldest owner in the NFL.Her formal title within the Bears organization is secretary of the board of directors. However, she is empowered to speak for the interests of her children and grandchildren, effectively giving her 80% ownership of the team.