Ralph Wilson dead at 95
Owned football team since 1959
Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson has died at the age of 95, the NFL team announced Tuesday.
Team president Russ Brandon announced Wilson's death at the league's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Wilson has owned the Bills since 1959 and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Wilson, who grew up in Detroit, purchased the team for $25,000 US. The Bills were worth an estimated $870 million as recently as August 2013, according to Forbes Magazine.
He was one of the original founders of the American Football League in 1960.
There was no immediate word on the cause of death, although Wilson had been in failing health for several years.
Wilson died at his home in Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich., around 1:40 p.m. ET, said Mary Mazur, spokeswoman for the Wayne County medical examiner's office.
He had been receiving in-home hospice care.
Wilson retired as team president on Jan. 1, 2013, giving the team's operating control to Brandon.
“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 Mr. Wilson," Brandon said in a statement.
"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."
Bills expected to be sold
It's expected that the team will now be sold. Last season the Bills finished a series in Toronto where they played one home regular-season game in each of the last six years at the Rogers Centre. But the Bills announced in early March that the team will not play a home game in Toronto during the 2014 season.
Brandon said he would discuss the team's future at a later date.
"Right now all of us are absorbing this tremendous personal loss," he said. "We are performing our day-to-day functions as we normally would.
"We understand our fans’ curiosity in wanting to know what the future holds for our organization and that will be addressed in the near future. But at this time, we are committed to honouring the life and legacy of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., the man who delivered NFL football to Buffalo.”
Wilson's greatest success as an NFL owner began when the team was finally able to sign quarterback Jim Kelly, who initially balked at playing in Buffalo when the team drafted him in 1983, and instead opted for the upstart United States Football League in 1984.
Once Kelly came into the fold in 1986 after the USFL folded, the Bills became one of the best teams in the NFL as they went to an unprecedented fourth straight Super Bowls beginning in 1991.
“Ralph Wilson was a driving force in developing pro football into America's most popular sport," said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. "He loved the game and took a chance on a start-up league in 1960 as a founding owner of the American Football League.
"He brought his beloved Bills to western New York and his commitment to the team's role in the community set a standard for the NFL. As a trusted advisor to his fellow league owners and the commissioner, Ralph always brought a principled and common-sense approach to issues. His lifelong loyalty to the game was instrumental in his richly deserved induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We are grateful for his many contributions to the NFL and offer our heartfelt sympathy to the Wilson family.”
With files from The Associated Press