Orchard Park, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Ralph Wilson, who brought professional football to western New York in 1960 and has been the guiding force behind the Buffalo Bills for more than five decades, died on Tuesday.
He was 95.
"He passed away peacefully at his home with his beautiful wife, Mary, and his daughters by his side," said Bills team president Russ Brandon in a statement. "No one loved the game of football more than Ralph Wilson. I speak for everyone within the Bills organization when I say that we are all suffering a deep and profound sadness with the passing of our Hall of Fame owner. We have lost our founder, our mentor, our friend, and this is a very difficult time for us all. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Mary, his daughters Christy and Dee Dee (Edith), his niece Mary and his entire family."
Since joining his seven fellow compatriots, led by Lamar Hunt, in getting the American Football League off the ground, Wilson has overseen the development of a franchise which can boast 17 playoff appearances, 10 division crowns and four AFC championships along with two AFL titles (1964-65).
Buffalo, the dominant club in the AFC East from the late 1980s through the mid 1990s, failed to win a Super Bowl despite four consecutive appearances from 1991-94.
"More than anything, he wanted to bring a Super Bowl Championship to Western New York. He wanted it for the players, the coaches and the franchise," Brandon added. "But mostly he wanted it for the fans. No owner has wanted a title more for these reasons than Mr. Wilson. In the end, he was extremely proud that his Bills are the only team to have played in four consecutive Super Bowls. Our organization, our league, our community has lost a great man."
Wilson was instrumental in the construction of a new venue to replace the old War Memorial Stadium, located in downtown Buffalo, whose capacity was less than required following the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Opened in 1973 and originally called Rich Stadium, it was renamed in Wilson's honor in 1998.
With Wilson's passing, Barron Hilton, founder of the Los Angeles (now San Diego) Chargers, remains the only living AFL owner.