By Steve Silverman
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Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, 94, has handed over control of the franchise to Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon.
Wilson was one of the original members of the Foolish Club.
They were the founding members of the American Football League. The late, lamented AFL is the reason that pro football rocketed to the top of American professional sports.
Bud Adams of the Tennessee Titans is now the only remaining member of the Foolish Club who is still active.
Wilson built one of the strongest teams in the AFL, and the Bills won AFL Championships in 1964 and ’65. There was no Super Bowl in those days, and many believe it’s a good thing, because the NFL was the much stronger league at this point.
However, in 1966, the AFL champion did get a chance to square off with the vaunted National Football League representative in a game that was called the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.”
That was a huge moment for professional football, and the Bills had a chance to represent the AFL. They hosted the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFL Championship Game, and they did it with a stellar quarterback named Jack Kemp, who would later go on to have a memorable career in New York State politics.
However, the Bills were not a good team in old War Memorial Stadium that day. They were no match for Len Dawson and Hank Stram’s Chiefs. Kansas City came away with a 31-7 victory and earned the right to represent the AFL in a game that would soon be known as the Super Bowl.
The Bills, of course, would get their chance to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl four times.
The 1990 season was a stellar year for the Bills, as they built one of the most prolific offenses in the game and had the right gunslinger behind center in Jim Kelly.
Kelly loved to fire the ball all over the lot, and head coach Marv Levy was more than happy to give him the freedom to do so.
The Bills rolled to a 13-3 record and earned their first Super Bowl chance when they overwhelmed the Los Angeles Raiders, 51-3.
That win and their explosive offense would earn them favorite status in Super Bowl XXV against the Giants.
Bill Parcells put on a coaching clinic in that game for the Giants, because his team outlasted the powerhouses from upstate New York even though they had to use backup Jeff Hostetler at the quarterback slot.
Parcells used the Giants’ strength up front to produce long, time-consuming drives and keep the ball out of Kelly’s hands for as long as possible.
The strategy worked brilliantly, as the Giants won the classic Super Bowl, 20-19. Buffalo’s Scott Norwood had a chance to win the game at the gun with a late 47-yard field goal, but the normally reliable kicker’s attempt was wide right.
The Bills would go on to represent the AFC three more years in a row in the Super Bowl, and they would lose each of those games.
The Bills would fall from grace after losing to the Redskins and the Cowboys twice in the Super Bowl, and they have not been back to the NFL playoffs since 1999.
The AFL started playing football in 1960, and Wilson and the Bills have been with them every step of the way.
His team never won the Super Bowl, but the Bills were the first major league sports team in Buffalo, and that city owes Wilson a debt of gratitude.
He now steps away and turns his team over to a new leader.
Football goes in cycles, and the Bills may have a chance to turn things around.
However, it was those early days in the AFL that rocketed football to the top, and Wilson should never be forgotten for his role.
Any old-school football fans out there have memories of the “Foolish Club”? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section below…