BUFFALO, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A true icon has passed.
Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who helped found the American Football League in 1960, died at his home on Tuesday afternoon. He was 95.
Bills president Russ Brandon made the announcement at the NFL winter meetings in Orlando.
Wilson was the founder and sole owner of the Bills after establishing the team with the upstart AFL in 1960. He played a key role in the league merger’s with the NFL. He was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Wilson died at his home in Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich., around 1:40 p.m., said Mary Mazur, spokeswoman for the Wayne County medical examiner’s office.
He had been receiving in-home hospice care.
“No one loves this game more than Ralph Wilson,” Brandon said in a statement. “It’s very tough. What he’s meant to the entire organization. He’s our leader, our mentor, our friend. How he loves his players and loved our community. Special guy. They just don’t make them like Ralph Wilson.”
Wilson had been in failing health for several years after having hip surgery in 2011. Though he spent much of his time at his home in suburban Detroit, he was well enough to attend the Hall of Fame induction weekends over the past few years.
“Today we lost a legendary member of the New York family,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “Ralph Wilson Jr., the last remaining original team owner of an AFL franchise, member of the NFL Hall of Fame and founder of the Buffalo Bills gave us a team that has been the pride of Western New York for the past 54 years.
“The Bills remain, to this day, an economic engine for the region, generating revenue and providing jobs at a stadium that will bear Mr. Wilson’s name for years to come. From his military service during World War II to his ownership of the Bills, Mr. Wilson left a legacy of leadership that helped keep the team in Buffalo for more than half a century.
“His passion for football and dedication to his community epitomized the spirit of the Buffalo Bills and their fans. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends and the entire Bills organization.”
After regularly attending Bills home games since founding the franchise, Wilson had not been to a game since attending one in 2010.
Wilson established a reputation as being the “conscience” of the NFL for his loyalty to fans and the several stands he took against franchise relocation.
“He didn’t let anyone pull anything off in him. He was very forceful,” New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson said.
“Mr. Wilson was a visionary and pioneer of professional football,” added Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank. “We have lost a founding member of the NFL family, but Ralph’s lasting impact on the NFL will forever be felt.”
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