Ralph Wilson

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Ralph Wilson
Date of birth:(1918-10-17) October 17, 1918 (age 95)
Place of birth:Columbus, Ohio, United States
Career information
Position(s):Owner
College:Virginia
Organizations
As owner:
1959-presentBuffalo Bills
Career highlights and awards
Military service
Allegiance:United States United States
Service/branch:United States Navy seal U.S. Navy
Years of service:1941-1946
Battles/wars:World War II
 
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Ralph Wilson
Date of birth:(1918-10-17) October 17, 1918 (age 95)
Place of birth:Columbus, Ohio, United States
Career information
Position(s):Owner
College:Virginia
Organizations
As owner:
1959-presentBuffalo Bills
Career highlights and awards
Military service
Allegiance:United States United States
Service/branch:United States Navy seal U.S. Navy
Years of service:1941-1946
Battles/wars:World War II

Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. (born October 17, 1918) is the founder and owner of NFL's Buffalo Bills. He was one of the founding owners of the American Football League, the league that the NFL merged with in 1970, and is the last of the original AFL owners. He is the oldest owner in the National Football League, at age 95, and since the death of Bud Adams in 2013 is also the longest tenured (54 years). He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 8, 2009.

Early career[edit]

Wilson grew up in Detroit, Michigan, graduated from the University of Virginia and attended the University of Michigan Law School. At the University of Virginia he joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. During World War II, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theater.[1] After the war ended, he took over the successful insurance business of his father and invested in Michigan area mines and factories. He eventually purchased several manufacturing outlets, construction firms, 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. 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 Orenthal James "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 Patriots. Wilson helped keep those franchises afloat, likely saving the entire league from folding (the AFL was unique among professional football league in that not a single AFL franchise folded in its history). In November 1963, Wilson lobbied successfully to have AFL games postponed the Sunday after President John F. Kennedy's assassination; NFL games were played as scheduled.

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. According to an article on msn.com, Wilson, described as "stubborn", has turned down numerous naming rights deals for the stadium. [2]

Wilson continues to be one of the league's most outspoken owners. He was one of only 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 beginning in 2008.

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.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Wilson maintains a permanent residence in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan with his wife, Mary. He has three daughters, 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 up until her death. Another daughter, Christy Wilson Hofmann, currently serves as a consultant in the area of merchandising. The third daughter, Edith Wilson, is not involved with the franchise. The highest ranking relative in the organization is Mary Owen, Wilson's niece, who serves as Vice President of Strategic Planning.[4]

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 has 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.[4] As of April 2013, Wilson is reported as "doing really well," with a statement that he hopes to make the 2013 home opener.[5]

Ralph Wilson is a 1992 inductee of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. He is a 33rd degree Scottish Rite Freemason.[6]

Pro Football Hall of Fame[edit]

On January 31, 2009, Ralph Wilson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with former Buffalo Bills great Bruce Smith. Joining the two legendary Buffalo Bills icons in Canton for enshrinement are defensive back Rod Woodson, offensive lineman Randall McDaniel, wide receiver Bob Hayes, and linebacker Derrick Thomas. 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. The Titans' owner, Bud Adams, was also the only owner his team has ever had, and the were the only living members of the "Foolish Club", the founders of the original eight AFL teams. Wilson and Adams are two of only three 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).

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4]

Thoroughbred racing[edit]

Ralph Wilson has also been 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 notably bred Santa Anita Derby winner Jim French, as well as two-year-old European susperstar Arazi, winner of the 1991 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and European Horse of the Year. [5] Another horse, Outta Here, raced in the 2003 Kentucky Derby and finished in seventh place.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Graham, Tim (March 21, 2011). "WWII Museum honors Ralph Wilson". ESPN. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Simon, Howard (1 January 2013). "Bills Owner Ralph Wilson Gives Up Control Of Franchise". WGR. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Update: Wilson still hospitalized. WGRZ. Retrieved September 1, 2012.
  5. ^ Sullivan, Jerry (12 April 2013). "Ralph shooting for home opener". The Buffalo News. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  6. ^ "Ralph Wilson Receives Distinguished Service Medal". The Northern Light. November 2010. Retrieved 1 January 2013.