Ralph Wilson Jr. did many things in his very successful 95 years of life. He brought football to Buffalo. He made millions of people happy.
Mr. Wilson could be compared to "The Wizard of Oz", although he never hid behind a curtain. He was a man who believed in a vision, not only for his business and pro football, but also for a region that many would never have put faith in.
Ralph Wilson Jr. founded the Buffalo Bills in 1959. He had already been part of professional football by being involved with a fledgling football team in his hometown of Detroit. After failing at trying to be part of a new start up team in Miami, he instead started a franchise in Buffalo. Who would have known that the $25,000 investment would 54 years later be valued at almost $900 million?
But this was more than just an investment. Mr. Wilson brought hope and happiness to many in western New York. I was just a small kid when my older brother Mark took me to my first Bills game. If I remember correctly, our seats were located in the very last row, the top row of the stadium. While others might be sad about being so far away from the field, I thought to myself "what a view"!
It was a great day. Although the game only lasted about 3 hours, it seemed like forever. I can still remember the blue September sky, the warm sun, the loud cheers from the happy crowd. Being from Canandaigua, I had never seen such a large collection of people in one place.
I even remember being happily stuck in traffic leaving the stadium. As I sat reminiscing about this grand event in my life, I noticed 2 silver convertibles heading up behind us, being led by a police escort on the shoulder of the road. As they sped by us, my bro shouted out "that was OJ Simpson and Ahmad Rashad"! What a cool moment for a kid to take in!
Who would have known that years later that the Bills legendary running back OJ would be leading the cops on a much different escort around Los Angeles?
While I know the Bills lost that game to the Miami Dolphins that day, my lasting memory was how happy I was as a kid to enjoy such a beautiful event in my life. Obviously I was hooked for life and became a Bills fan on that fall Sunday. I owe my brother Mark for that. But I owe Mr. Wilson even more. Because like me, he brought happiness to thousands of us on that and many more Sundays.
"The Wizard of Buffalo" will live on in my memory forever!