Ralph Wilson, founder and only owner the Buffalo Bills football team has ever known, is dead.
I’d had nearly 24 hours to process this news, yet, as a Buffalo native and avid Bills fan, I still was slightly numb and extremely nervous for the future of the franchise.
I know that I am not alone in feeling this way.
For decades, we heard the team would likely leave the area once Mr. Wilson was no longer at the helm. Forgive the question at a time like this, but are the vultures circling overhead yet?
Upon learning the news of Mr. Wilson passing, I contacted my Buffalo-area friends, also longtime Bills supporters and sports news junkies, to see what the word is on the street as to who might purchase the team.
Business tycoon Tom Golisano, Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, along with former Bills player Thurman Thomas, are names that have been tossed around. Jim Kelly has always made it clear he was interested in being a part of an owners group, but his health concerns now call that into question.
Maybe Jon Bon Jovi, another name mentioned in the gossip circles in recent years, is interested. While we’re at it, maybe we can get the Goo Goo Dolls to throw in.
In any case, someone who has deep pockets needs to make a play and they need to keep the team in Buffalo. Currently, the franchise is protected in a trust, according to several Buffalo-based news sources, but that situation can’t last forever.
According to a report in the Toronto Sun, the Bills cannot relocate before at least 2019, and even doing so then would come with a $400 million buyout.
“I’m very familiar with the Bills’ new lease in Buffalo, and Ralph Wilson gave the people of Buffalo and Western New York an enormous gift,” Marc Ganis, president of Sports Corp, Ltd., told the Sun. “In this new 10-year lease that he signed, for the first seven years there is no opportunity to buy that lease out, or terminate it. None. That team is required to stay in that stadium for at least the first seven years, and one year already has passed in that lease, so for the next six years.”
For his part, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that the Bills’ lease situation means they will remain in Western New York for the foreseeable future.
“We all know they have a lease,” the commissioner said during the final press conference of the NFL meetings in Orlando. “We know the terms of (that) lease, and we also know we have to find a long-term solution to keep the Bills there ... and that’s what we’ll continue to work to do. ...”
Nevertheless, Bills fans are justified in feeling nervous.
I don’t think anybody who is originally from or is living in Buffalo wants to see the Bills moved to another city. Even my friends and family who care nothing for the team, or for sports in general, understand the negative impact it would have on the fans and Western New York community if the team moves elsewhere.
Perhaps the NFL authorities could lift the ban on publicly owned, non-profit ownership, so that fans could take ownership. It’s working for Green Bay — and Bills fans have just as much dedication as those cheeseheads.
I, for one, would not support any other team in the National Football League with even close to the same passion I’ve had for the Bills during the past couple of decades.
I am dedicated. I’ve sat through blizzards, nearly getting frostbite while attending Bills games during the winter, and I’ve spent thousands of dollars on Bills paraphernalia. Yes, I wore the Zubaz pants.
I videorecorded all of the playoff games during the late ‘90s and developed that deep-seated hatred for the Miami Dolphins during that same time period. I became “friends” with hundreds of tailgaters, I’ve kissed the side of Ralph Wilson Stadium for good luck, I’ve danced like a fool to the “Shout” song, cheered the loudest chants after a victory and cried into many beers after a loss.
I was bursting with excitement when I had the opportunity to report on high school football playoffs for five years on the very field where Bills legends like Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith played and where Marv Levy coached.
There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who have done the same. It’s a commitment that even 14 years without a playoff berth can’t shake.
Overall, even though the “Father of the Bills” has passed, his love for the team will live on in the fans and, hopefully, within its new owner.
Bills fans bleed the deepest blues, the purest whites and the darkest reds for this team. A new owner needs to have that same passion along with the ability to bring talent to this squad, so that we, The 12th Man, can continue our love for this team and finally see a championship.
(Contact Darlene M. Donohue at email@example.com.)