Buffalo Bills: Ralph Wilson Jr. Through the Years

Greg MaiolaSenior Analyst IIJanuary 2, 2013

Buffalo Bills: Ralph Wilson Jr. Through the Years

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    After Ralph Wilson passed of the torch to Russ Brandon Tuesday when he promoted him to CEO and Bills President, let's look back in respect at the man who paved the way for NFL football in Buffalo.

    Wilson, who is 94 and a Hall of Fame inductee, has rightfully decided that it is in the best interest of the Buffalo Bills for control of operation to be passed along to a younger generation. However, without Wilson's ambition, the NFL may have never landed in Western New York.

    Here is Ralph Wilson Jr. though the years.

October 17, 1918

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    Ralph Cookerly Wilson Jr. was born on October 17, 1918 in Columbus, Ohio. He eventually moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he was raised, and attended the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan Law School. He then served in World War II before getting involved in the football industry.

October 8, 1959

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    Wilson jumped at the chance to own a team in Lamar Hunt's new league, the American Football League, or AFL. After an initial bid to create a team in Miami was denied, Wilson told Hunt, "Count me in with Buffalo." Thus, the Bills were created and became the seventh of the eight founding franchises.

    The team initially wore blue and silver uniforms and their team name was selected through a fan contest.

December 26, 1964

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    Ralph Wilson's Bills won their first AFL Championship on December 26, 1964, defeating the San Diego Chargers 20-7 in Buffalo, New York. Exactly one year later, Wilson's Bills repeated, winning the 1965 AFL Championsip 23-0 against the San Diego Chargers in San Diego, California. However, these two titles were the only ones Wilson was able to bring to Buffalo.

June 8, 1966

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    June 8, 1966 was the date that the AFL-NFL merger. This move allowed Buffalo to play in the premier football league in America and the AFL might not have survived without Ralph Wilson.

    Wilson loaned money to various AFL teams to keep them financially afloat. None of the teams folded during the league's ten year stint. The leagues came together, the Bills joined the AFC and Buffalo was on the football map for all of America to see.

The 1980 NFL Season

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    The 1980 NFL Season was the Buffalo Bills 21st season and their 11th in the NFL. This season saw Buffalo beat the Miami Dolphins for the first time since 1969, breaking a 20-game losing streak, which is the longest losing streak to a team in NFL history.

    The Bills finished 11-5 and won the AFC Eastern Division, their first NFL divisional crown since the 1966 AFL season

January 23, 1994

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    January 23, 1994 was the date that the Buffalo Bills won their fourth consecutive and most recent AFC Championship. This unprecedented feat made the Bills one of the elite teams in the NFL and made Rich Stadium a feared site to play.

    However, Wilson's squads would never bring home the ultimate reward: the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

August 8, 2009

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    Ralph Wilson was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on January 31, 2009, along with former Bills defensive end Bruce Smith and officially inducted into Canton on August 8, 2009.

    The year of Wilson's induction was also the 50th anniversary of the AFL's inaugural season.  Wilson, at the age of 90, was inducted into Canton by ESPN analyst Chris Berman, becoming the oldest inductee ever.

January 1, 2013

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    On January 1, 2013, Bills CEO Russ Brandon was given full control of the franchise by 94-year- old Ralph Wilson in Detroit, Michigan.

    Brandon is the team's new president and has control of operations for the the Bills, leaving Wilson behind and moving on with the franchise.

Thanks Ralph!

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    Without Ralph Wilson, the NFL as we know it may not be the same. He kept the AFL solvent, which allowed for a merger between the two leagues.

    However, Wilson's major accomplishment is bringing pro football into Buffalo and doing his best to keep it there for good.

    During his tenure in Buffalo, his Bills captured two consecutive AFL Championships and a record four straight AFC Championships. The 1990's saw his bills win 103 games in what is sometimes considered a dynasty in spite of the absence of a Super Bowl win.

    Though some fans have grown frustrated with Wilson in recent seasons, in part because due to their 13-year playoff drought, without Wilson, there would be no Bills.

    At 90, he was able to see his bust enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and bask in his achievements. Now at 94, the oldest owner in the NFL was able to pass along his franchise to the right man on his own terms.

    Whatever the future holds, remember the man the stadium is named after. He brought pro football to Buffalo and created a tradition of excellence, even if the current Bills have faded from the glory that made many of his teams so dominant.

    So here is a "thank you" to Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Thanks for bringing pro-football to Buffalo, establishing excellence and keeping the small-market team in Western New York.

    Thank you for doing what is in the best interest of the franchise in 2013: giving your life's work into the trusting hands of Russ Brandon.

    Thank you to a legend, for all you have done.