Ralph Wilson Jr., the 95-year-old founder and owner of the Buffalo Bills has passed, but when a friend texted me the news this afternoon, I was stunned.
I didn’t expect to be surprised, but oddly, I was.
The sheer shock and never-pleasant stomach drop which accompanied that shock brought to the forefront of my mind the tremendous gratitude I have for Mr. Wilson as well as the significant impact he has had on my life.
Without him, the Buffalo Bills wouldn’t exist today. Through decades of economic downturn, the City of Buffalo remained in the national spotlight each fall thanks to the team he founded in 1959.
The Bills are Buffalo.
They mean as much to the city and its nearest inhabitants as the Packers do to Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Browns do to Cleveland, Ohio.
My grandpa fell hard for the championship Bills of the 1960’s, as did my young dad and uncle when America’s admiration for professional football really took off.
They passed on to me their fondness for the game and unconditional love for the hometown Bills, much like thousands of other Western New York grandpas and dads did to their children.
The Golden Era of the early 1990’s are foggy memories in my head, but stories of that time are still told—and never age—by older relatives and friends as if by divine intervention, of all places, lowly Buffalo was heaven on Earth for football loyalists during that period, even though the ultimate goal was never reached.
I was one of many who, at times, questioned the way Ralph Wilson Jr. ran the franchise, but I don’t feel ashamed for doing so because my respect for him never wavered.
His team has drastically shaped who I am today, remarkably benefitted the close relationship I have with my season ticket-sharing dad, and sparked the crowning passion in my life I may not have found otherwise without his Buffalo Bills.