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Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson dead at 95

Ralph Wilson
Ralph Wilson
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Buffalo Bills owner and founder Ralph Wilson passed away Tuesday from natural causes, he was 95 years old. He was one of the founding owners of the American Football League (AFL) and later became an NFL franchise owner when his team the Buffalo Bills joined the league in 1970. Wilson was later elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009 as a founder/owner. Besides running a professional football team he was also a thoroughbred racehorse breeder and owned several racehorses.

Born on October 17, 1918 in Columbus, Ohio and a graduate of the University of Virginia, Ralph Wilson served in the United States Navy during WWII in the Pacific and Atlantic theater of operations. After his service ended, he took over his father's company and became very successful and wealthy. Wilson got into the National Football League as a minority owner of the Detroit Lions. A few years later, Lamar Hunt was forming a new football league to compete with the NFL and Wilson joined the upstart AFL in 1959 along with Bud Adams and the group of owners were labeled "The Foolish Club".

The two leagues competed with each other at first but the two slowly began to co-operate and in 1965 Wilson began negotiations with the NFL about a future merger. In 1970, the National Football League absorbed the AFL and along with it took many of the innovative ideas and game play that were part of the American Football League. Ralph Wilson was called "The voice of reason" amongst the NFL owners. He also proved that a small market can not only compete in the league but they can be successful. During his time as owner, the Bills won two AFL Championships (1964,1965) and four AFC Championships.

In the later years as owner, Wilson had the Bills play a home game in Toronto starting in 2008 in an attempt to appeal to the thousands of Canadian fans who attend games in Buffalo. The "Bills Toronto Series" as it has been named is also a sort of a test market to see if the city can support an NFL franchise. Ralph Wilson stated that his team would never move across the border as long as he was alive. But now that he passed away, the question still remains and as a few weeks ago, the "series" has been postponed for the 2014 season.

Ralph Wilson was an innovator as a franchise owner and as an AFL founding member, he brought along many changes to the game making it for fan friendly and highly inventive. As an NFL owner, Wilson brought a sense of common knowledge and reason amongst the owners and foresaw the effects of mismanagement. The NFL lost a great owner and a mind for the game.