Orlando, Fla. - Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson passed away Tuesday, March 25, at the age of 95. Bills CEO Russ Brandon delivered the news at the NFL annual meeting in Orlando.
"A great man, unbelievable leader," the Bills' CEO told the media.
Wilson grew up in Michigan. He served in the Navy during World War II, and came back to the United States to begin a career in the insurance business. Wilson later purchased a share of the Detroit Lions. When the AFL was founded, Wilson created the Bills franchise in 1959, which then joined the NFL during the 1970 merger.
"Unbelievable what he accomplished," said Brandon. "Such an unbelievable day when he put on the yellow jacket and went into the Hall of Fame. I always said the only two things I ever wanted to see was Mr. Wilson put on that yellow jacket and hand him the Lombardi Trophy. We're still working on the second part, obviously, but it's fitting that he is in the Hall of Fame for all he's done for this game and this league and all he's meant to Western New York."
Choking back tears while speaking to a small gathering of reporters, Brandon said that he learned the news around 2 p.m. ET from Mary Wilson, Ralph's wife.
"No one loved this game more than Ralph Wilson.
"He's our leader, our mentor our friend," Brandon said. "He loved his players, loved our community. They don't make them like Ralph Wilson."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also released a statement on Tuesday:
Ralph Wilson was a driving force in developing pro football into America's most popular sport. 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.