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Ralph C. Wilson Jr.
Date of birth October 17, 1918 (1918-10-17) (age 91)
Place of birth Columbus, Ohio
Position(s) Owner
College Virginia
Honors Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame
Pro Football Hall of Fame
1964 AFL Championship
1965 AFL Championship
1990 AFC Championship
1991 AFC Championship
1992 AFC Championship
1993 AFC Championship
Team(s) as a coach/administrator
AFL Buffalo Bills
NFL Buffalo Bills
Pro Football Hall of Fame, 2009

Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. (October 17, 1918, in Columbus, Ohio) is the founder, owner and president of NFL's Buffalo Bills. He was one of the founding owners of the American Football League, the league that the NFL merged with in 1970. He is the oldest owner in the National Football League, at age 91. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 8, 2009.



Wilson grew up in Detroit, Michigan, graduated from the University of Virginia and attended the University of Michigan Law School. At the University of Virginia he joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He is a World War II veteran. After the war ended, he took over the successful insurance business of his father and invested in Michigan area mines and factories. He eventually purchased several manufacturing outlets, construction firms, and radio stations, and founded Ralph Wilson Industries.

A minority owner of the Detroit Lions, Wilson got wind of Lamar Hunt's plans for a new league, the American Football League, to challenge the NFL. He tried to put together a team in Miami, but was turned down. His next choice was Buffalo. In September 1959, Wilson sent Hunt a telegram with the words, "Count me in with Buffalo." He named his new team the Bills, after a previous team that had played in the All-America Football Conference from 1946 to 1949. On October 28, the Buffalo Bills officially became the seventh franchise of the AFL.

Wilson was a pillar of the league, fielding the only AFL team that went to the postseason for four consecutive years, 1963–1966. The Buffalo Bills won the league championship in 1964 and 1965. Wilson made Professional Football a resounding success in a "small market," signing such stars as Cookie Gilchrist, Jack Kemp, and Tom Sestak and Hall of Famer Billy Shaw.

He was a guiding force in AFL policies that ensured success, such as gate and television revenue sharing; in 1961, with the rival Oakland Raiders in financial difficulty, Wilson loaned the club $400,000 and also would be willing to loan money to Billy Sullivan of the Patriots. Wilson helped keep those franchises afloat, likely saving the entire league from folding. In November 1963, Wilson lobbied successfully to have American Football League games postponed the Sunday after President John F. Kennedy's assassination, while NFL games went on uninterrupted.

After the original naming rights deal on the Bills' current stadium expired in 1998, the facility's name was changed from Rich Stadium to Ralph Wilson Stadium. According to a recent article on, Wilson, described as "stubborn" has turned down numerous naming rights deals for the stadium [1]

Wilson continues to be one of the league's most outspoken owners. He was one of only two owners (the Cincinnati Bengals' Mike Brown being the other) to oppose the league's current collective bargaining agreement. He also negotiated a deal to have his team play home games in Toronto beginning in 2008, after railing against the Western New York economy.

Wilson maintains a permanent residence in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan with his wife, Mary. He has three daughters, two of whom have involved in team business. Linda Bogdan (1948–2009), Pro Football's first female scout, was the franchise's Corporate Vice President up until her death. Another daughter, Christy Wilson Hofmann, currently serves as a consultant in the area of merchandising. The third daughter, Edith Wilson, is not involved with the franchise.

Ralph Wilson is a 1992 inductee of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

On January 31, 2009, Ralph Wilson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with former Buffalo Bills great Bruce Smith. Joining the two legendary Buffalo Bills icons in Canton for enshrinement are defensive back Rod Woodson, offensive lineman Randall McDaniel, wide receiver Bob Hayes, and linebacker Derrick Thomas. The Hall of Fame game, played the day after the 2009 inductions, will stray from the usual AFC-NFC format and instead will be between two original American Football League teams: the Buffalo Bills and the Tennesee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers). This matchup was announced after Wilson was elected. The Titans' owner, Bud Adams, is also the only owner his team has ever had, and the two are the only living members of the "Foolish Club", the founders of the original eight AFL teams. Wilson and Adams are the only two men who have owned a Professional Football franchise continuously for fifty years. The Hall of Fame game on Sunday August 9, will be a kickoff to the 2009 season, which would have been the 50th season of play for the AFL, if the NFL had not merged with it. However, the Buffalo Bills will be celebrating 50 years of playing professional football in Buffalo during the 2009 season. Mr Wilson was officially inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Sat. August 8, 2009 with ESPN Sports icon Chris Berman acting as his "presenter". Wilson was scheduled to receive his Hall of Fame ring in a halftime ceremony during the Bills game against the Cleveland Browns on October 11, 2009.[2] However, Wilson cancelled the event at the last moment, without notifying the press or fans, and no explanation was given. It was widely speculated that Wilson cancelled the event out of fear of being booed by Bills fans for the team's chronic poor performance on the field and a series of highly unpopular managerial decisions.[3]

Thoroughbred racing

Ralph Wilson has also been involved for a number of years in the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing both as a breeder and as an owner in France and the United States. He notably bred Santa Anita Derby winner, Jim French as well as two-year-old European susperstar Arazi, winner of the 1991 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and European Horse of the Year. [4] Another horse, Outta Here, raced in the 2003 Kentucky Derby (which finished in last).

See also


External links

Sporting positions
Preceded by
first owner
Buffalo Bills owner
Succeeded by
Preceded by
first President
Buffalo Bills President
Succeeded by
Tom Donahoe
Preceded by
Tom Donahoe
Buffalo Bills President
Succeeded by


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