1969 Interview with Ralph Wilson

I picked up a copy of the 1969 Buffalo Bills Annual recently.  Known by other teams as a yearbook, this 48-page booklet has a lot of great information on the Bills final AFL squad.

One article that piqued my interest was an interview with owner Ralph Wilson, as his club entered into the AFL’s closing season.  The question that struck me the most was when Wilson was asked what pitfalls pro football must guard against to survive.  Could this have been a back-handed jab at Joe Namath, whose star was never brighter than after his Super Bowl III victory the previous season?  I thought Wilson’s answer about Hollywood stars becoming bigger than the industry was a great bit of insight, especially when viewed in-light of the modern NFL.  I have never understood how a head coach can maintain a leadership role when his salary is lower than many of those players who are supposed to answer to him.    I wonder how Wilson would answer that question today, or better, if he thinks that the modern NFL did a good job in not swinging “too far from stability.”

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Todd Tobias (790 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.

8 Responses to 1969 Interview with Ralph Wilson

  1. Howard says:

    Excellent observations from Mr. Wilson. He correctly saw the consolidation during the early 1970’s followed by the Tampa and Seattle expansion. I think the sport is diluted by too many teams. The talent pool is spread too thin and the game is not as sound as during the first two or three decades after the merger. There are twp-four too many teams. This is the same plague as in the NBA and NHL. Way too many teams in secondary markets.

    • Mike Metzler says:

      From a statistical standpoint I don’t see a dilution of the talent pool. Whereas the population of the U.S. has increased 55% since 1970, the number of teams has only increased 23%. Even factoring in enlarged team sizes since the merger, statistically the talent pool is now richer.

      • Howard says:

        Excellent points, and I am almost 100% a “numbers guy”. It just seems like there is a dilution. Perhaps it is more my memories of exciting games during the era of smaller numbers of teams. Perhaps it’s not the size of the army, but the intensity of the battle!!

        • 1967 says:

          Agree, Howard. For all the, “players are bigger, stronger and faster today” etc., the game today & football players same cannot hold a candle to yesteryear’s, my opine. They call the premise ‘evolution’, ‘progress’ even football; I refer to it as ‘self-flagellation’.

          Pull up a chair and grab a sandwich & soda, rant begins in 3, 2, 1…

          Funny how the bigger, stronger, faster teams/players LOST the first three Superbowls to the smaller, weaker, slower team(s), GB & NYJ. Wasn’t until Superbowl IV an generally acknowledged bigger, stronger, faster Chiefs team whupped the (in comparison) smaller, weaker, slower Vikings, just sayin’.

          ‘Best’ teams (players) beat ‘inferior’ ones, most usually, regardless hype (size, weight & speed) – otherwise, could would just throw rosters on the field/would be no need to play the games.


          Back to football today and yesterday…

          It is less entertaining & watered down. In fact, I predict not too distant future, pro football will price itself out of popularity as we now know it, dollars and cents (if not sense, common) the downfall. Litigation too, though that’s another matter.

          Yesteryear, the creme de la creme was 33 or even as many 40 players comprised a roster. Compare this with 53 today & 32 teams when there were only 23, in ’67. That is 9 more teams now with 53 man rosters compared 23/40 then, which means be nigh on 600 guys today who wouldn’t even be on a team now. This I differentiate from the AFL, which filled an need by providing ‘capable’ players a venue, besides the NFL.

          What passes for legit NFL (as MLB, etc.) talent today is a joke; just look out on the diamond/field. ‘Half teams’ not whole…ne’er the twain offense & defense to meet, as well pitching so paper-thin MLB that you need magnifying glass, tweezers & a compass to find said.


          How much the population has increased or has not is a moot point. If only 23 teams existed today, ‘creme de la creme’ those 33 or 40 who qualify to earn a roster spot is still be better than the 53 on 32 teams – a principle will never change; everything is relative… eye of the beholder too.

          I find it amusing that despite hype re: super-dooper modern players, many of the greatest/most revered records in sport still stand today, yesteryear’s players. The modern players were so great, should have not only passed but obliterated the old marks (Chamberlain’s 100 point game, DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak among them. Even MLB’s Bonds – whether you believe he partook of steroids or not, I do – needed a total of 837 extra at bats even ‘tie’ Babe Ruth’s 714 home runs. Imagine Ruth on steroids, modern cheating advantage – maybe 1500 home runs, his still the all-time mark. I revere a Hank Aaron, but even he had only 493 home runs a similar # of at bats as Ruth had, 8398, just sayin’ again.


          More proof: look how pathetic depth is today pro football. The almighty buck reign$ supreme to the point they have to compromise the game to protect QB’s from injury/damage fan intere$t/revenue (Jack Lambert, long ago – “they should be wearing a dress”.) The NFL should be ashamed but they have none, just unadulterated greed in everything they do.

          Ditto MLB and the rest, sports. I miss the way it was 1969, when but one team qualified to go to an World Series, each league. Contrast that with today everybody & their brother making post season, figuratively speaking, NFL, MLB & NBA – no team (child) left behind, everyone a ‘winner’ Today, the parity-emasculated teams take great pride (appears) even in winning a ‘division’, as if it’s on par somehow with league pennant, for example. Ditto the NFL its ” Division Champs!” It leaves me bemused.

          Honestly due economics, can see the day coming when ‘every’ team in ‘every’ sport will make post season, purely out of nece$$ity.

          Soapbox now relinquished, rant (and eggnog) fini too.


          • Howard says:

            Good rant 1967. Agree fully. I remember 1967-1969 Colts-Rams being brutal affairs. No hugging before and after the contest. And Chiefs/ Raiders was a war. Respect, sure, but deep desire to beat the crap out of the other guys.

            I remember the first post merger Thanksgiving game; Lions/ Raiders. Oakland went out to a quick 14-0 lead. The Raiders started laughing and mouthing off at Detroit. It pissed off Detroit so much, they ran off 28 unanswered points. That kind of passion is hard to find today. Except for maybe the Patriots, it is hard to find teams that will bleed to win.

            I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. Hopefully we can continue our “arguments” for a long time!!

  2. Tim T says:

    Mr. Wilson does not make it to Buffalo much if at all anymore..He is into his 90’s. One question I always wanted answered.. Why did they only wear the 1963 uniform for that one year ? It was the set with the shoulder piping..similar to say a UCLA uniform..Always wondered why one and done… with that unifrom. Also, what was the real..entire story with Cookie Gilchrist and Mr. Wilson..

    too bad you couldn’t get one final sit down with Mr. Wilson..or could you ?? Now that would be awesome..a heart to heart with the last living member of the foolish club

    • Mike Metzler says:

      Hey Tim, Just a minor correction; that shoulder stripe uniform was used for two seasons, 1962 and 1963. I agree that was a very attractive uniform. Lou Saban had the uniforms changed when he became head coach in 1962, getting rid of the Detroit Lionish uniforms of the previous two seasons. I am under the understanding that the uniforms were changed in 1964 for 2 reasons: 1, the jersey were basically a mirror image of the Boston Patriots uniform at that time when the Patriots were the arch-enemies of the Bills. 2, it was desired to create a design no one else was using. The thin-thick-thick-thin sleeve and sock stripes became immediately identifiable with the Bills. Round it all out with red piping bordering all the stripes, numerals and names, the uniforms were quite striking, though not as imaginable as the most unique uniforms of the AFL, the Chargers.

  3. Interesting interview.

    Todd, maybe, if Mr. Wilson is in good enough health, you can do a “What Would You Ask Ralph Wilson?”–like you did with Lance Alworth. I know I’d enjoy that, and this site has quite a few readers who are Bills fans.

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