Buffalo Bills Patriarch, Ralph Wilson, Passes Away


the foolish club

NEW YORK – OCTOBER 28 – SIGNALS FOR 1960 – Representatives of the embryo American Football League set u a football-like formation on the roof of the building here today after deciding they would begin operations in 1960. In front, left to right, are Robert L. Howsam, Denver, Colorado; Max Winter of Minneapolis and St. Paul; Lamar Hunt, Dallas Texas, founder of the new league, and K.S. (Bud) Adams Jr., Houston, Texas. In rear are, left to right, Barron Hilton, Los Angeles; Ralph C. Wilson Jr., Buffalo, N.Y., and Harry Wismer, New York City.

Ralph Wilson, founder and longtime owner of the Buffalo Bills, passes away today.  He was 95 years old.  Wilson was the last current NFL owner with ties back to The Foolish Club, the original group of AFL owners.  Barron Hilton is now the sole surviving member of that group.

Ralph Wilson joined the American Football League with a background as a minority owner of the NFL’s Detroit Lions.  But once he jumped into the AFL, he was all Buffalo Bills.  Wilson not only guided his own team, but was integral in ensuring the success of the league as a whole.  He was once president of the AFL, helped to negotiate television contracts, the AFL-NFL merger, and even lent money to the Oakland Raiders in lean years when the franchise had difficulty staying afloat.

After initial years of futility, Wilson’s Bills began to see change with the addition of running back Cookie Gilchrist, and quarterback Jack Kemp in 1962.  The Bills won their first championship against the San Diego Chargers in 1964, and repeated the feat the following season.

While success on the field was intermittent in the post-AFL years, Wilson’s dedication to the Bills and Western New York was not.  For his many years of effort and guidance, Ralph Wilson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009, the AFL’s 50th anniversary season.

An NFL.com article about Wilson’s passing can be found HERE.

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.

4 Responses to Buffalo Bills Patriarch, Ralph Wilson, Passes Away

  1. Dave Bruce says:

    The last of the “Foolish Club”. Rest in Peace Ralph, and thanks for keeping the Bills in Buffalo all these years!!

  2. billd says:

    RIP Mr. Wilson. It will be interesting to see if a team (other than Green Bay) can survive in such a small television market (56th). The stadium lease has 5 years to run and regular season games in Toronto the last few years only add to the rumors about the Bills leaving Buffalo. I hope they stay in Buffalo.

  3. R.I.P. Mr. Wilson. Thank you for all you done for the game of football.

    It’s crazy to imagine what pro football would be like had he not saved the Raiders from folding.

  4. Ted Machnik says:

    Grew up in Chicago, but loved watching the AFL on NBC. The Bills were my favorite team. Sincerest condolences to Mr. Wilson’s family. Sadly, the end of an era.

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