Ralph Wilson, who founded the Buffalo Bills with a $25,000 investment in 1959 and turned the team into western New York’s defining institution, died Tuesday after years of failing health. He was 95.
Wilson was surrounded by his family when he died at his home in Grosse Pointe, Mich. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell informed team owners of the news at the league’s annual meetings in Orlando, Fla.
Goodell called Wilson “a driving force in developing pro football into America’s most popular sport” and “a trusted adviser to his fellow league owners and the commissioner.”
A co-founder of the American Football League, which began play in 1960, Wilson took the first steps toward the eventual AFL-NFL merger by initiating talks with Carroll Rosenbloom, who at the time owned the Baltimore Colts. Later, Wilson would become emblematic of small-market owners who stayed afloat — and refused to move their franchises — as the NFL enjoyed an explosion in popularity. The Bills were valued at $870 million in 2013 by Forbes magazine.
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“When he had opportunities to move the team to much greener pastures, he said many times, ‘The team will not leave Buffalo in my lifetime,’ ” said Bill Polian, former Bills president. “He was as good as his word.”
In fact, the Bills play in Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
“He went in when Buffalo was thriving and persevered when Buffalo started declining a little bit because most of the businesses moved out,” Jets owner Woody Johnson said. “He was very loyal to Buffalo and to that part of the state.”
• The NFL officiating department will help referees rule on instant-replay reviews starting next season.
League owners passed a rule Tuesday allowing referees to consult with director of officiating Dean Blandino and his staff to help determine whether a call should be upheld or overturned. NFL officials said the change should speed up the process.
Also, players no longer will be allowed to dunk the football over the crossbar of the goalposts in celebration.
Blandino said the NFL is making a clarification of the rules for mutual respect and sportsmanship.
• Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly is expected to have surgery again following the recurrence of cancer that his wife described as aggressive and “starting to spread.”
Doctors for the 54-year-old former Buffalo Bills star are leaning toward surgery Thursday or perhaps April 1 at a New York City hospital, brother Dan
Kelly told The Associated Press.
• Safety James Ihedigbo and Detroit agreed to a two-year contract, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.
Ihedigbo made 99 tackles last year for the Baltimore Ravens, ranking second on the team.