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Fans remember Mr. Wilson

Posted Apr 5, 2014

A collection of heartwarming memories and stories of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. from Bills fans around the world.


"I started going to Bills game at the Rockpile in 1966 and have lots of memories of Ralph but this sticks out.  It was 1975 after the Jets game.  As Ralph was leaving the stadium, he stopped by our tailgate and asked if we could spare a hotdog for his daughter (she was in the car with him).  I told him we didn't have hotdogs but she was welcome to have an Italian sausage.  She said yes so we gave him a sausage and the fans tailgating next to us gave him a six pack of beer!  And off he went.  Driving his own car to and from the game, stopping to ask fans for a dog, just like any other fan. He was a one of a kind owner."
- Terry Obrien

“I remember having a snowball fight in the parking lot before a game and we hit Ralph's car by accident. He waved at us and laughed.”
- Carl Nocera

“Mr. Wilson's commitment to the league, Western New York, the Bills organization and most importantly, the Fans is what taught me the meaning of passion. As a lifelong Bills fan who has never actually been to Buffalo, his unwavering faith and loyalty showed me the way to be a fan and as a side effect, he showed me how to be confident in myself, regardless of the opinions of others. Thank you for everything you've done and everything you helped make me, Mr. Wilson.”
- Matthew Soto

OBITUARY: RALPH C. WILSON, JR.


"Even though I am not from Western NY, I still feel like Mr. Wilson was a part of my family.  Growing up in northwestern Pennsylvania, my Dad took me to my first ever NFL game, which was in Buffalo.  I have been attached to this franchise ever since. Mr. Wilson brought this team to the city of Buffalo and never moved them.  I will forever be grateful for that.

“RIP Mr. Wilson, thank you for everything you have done for me and my family, and football fans all over the world.  You will forever be missed.  Go Bills."
- Terry Long

“Thank you for all you have done for so many of us Mr. Wilson. Thank you for NFL football as we know it today. Thank you for the Buffalo Bills. Thank you for all you contributed and brought to Western New York. Thanks for being the man you were.”
- Mark Triplett

"I met Mr. Wilson at the Saratoga Race Course one August many, maybe 20, years ago.  Every time I saw him after that meeting (and it wasn't often) he greeted me like a friend and took time to talk - whether it was about horses or football or just the weather.  He was special and he made me feel special as well.

“Mr. Wilson will be missed and remembered by all."
- Deanna Seabridge

STORY: A HALL OF FAME OWNER, WILSON PASSES AT 95


“After Ralph received a $50k fine for pass interference call on a hail marry pass in a game with the Pats I saw him at Ralph Wilson stadium.  I congratulated him on speaking his mind about the lousy call.   He took the time to give me a big thumbs up.  Yes this man knew his football and loved his team.  An example of the man standing up for what he believed was right.”
- Ken Martin

"Rest in Peace Mr. Wilson... circle those wagons in Heaven.  We will never forget you.”
- Wayne Barney

“About 10 years ago, on the verge of graduating college, I wrote to Mr. Wilson to thank him for creating the Bills. I told him that my loyalty to the Bills had always been my most defining characteristic that everyone knew me for, despite growing up in Connecticut surrounded by Jets, Giants, and Patriots fans. In less than two weeks, I received a hand-written reply from him, thanking me for my letter. My heart skipped a beat when I saw that envelope with One Bills Drive as a return address, and to this day, among my massive NFL memorabilia collection, that letter remains my favorite thing. I was never lucky enough to meet Mr. Wilson in person, but he exchanged several letters with me after that. I have always remained taken aback by a man in his position taking the time to connect with a single fan. It may sound crazy to say about a sports team, but aside from family, there is nothing I love more than the Bills. And I will be forever grateful to Mr. Wilson for creating them and for his kindness and generosity in humoring a young fan.”
- Andrew Rote

“Week 16 of the 2006 season. I braved the cold, cold Christmas Eve weather until the middle of the third quarter when it became unbearable. I told my wife I was going to concessions for hot coffee so I sprinted up the stairs, sprinted down the hallway, built up a full head of steam and took a sharp left into the concourse - right into Mr. Wilson's path! I slid to a stop only inches from knocking him over and with wide eyes I managed to stammer, "Excuse me, Mr. Wilson!" With even wider eyes he looked at me, cracked a slight smile and said, "Merry Christmas!" While I admittedly deserved a scolding for almost causing an accident, instead I received a great Christmas memory that will always give me a chuckle. Thank you, Mr. Wilson.”
- Andrew Szymczyk

“When I was a boy, we were writing poems in school. I wrote a poem about the Bills and sent it to him. I was so thrilled when I received a response from him. I still have that letter and his autograph; they're now framed. Imagine the excitement of a 12 year-old when the owner of his favorite sports team actually took the time to write back to him? A truly classy act by any standard and perhaps an example from which we can all learn. He lived a good life; my thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
- Andrew Gould

“I met Mr. Wilson in 1998 in Indianapolis during the game against the Colts. My wife and I were sitting in the row in front of the visiting owner's box. Ralph was upset that the box was in the end zone so he watched the game from the press box. Some ladies in the box were chatting us up since we had Bills gear on and after the game (which Flutie led us to the win after Rob Johnson got hurt) we were invited to come in to the box for some food. Shortly after this, Ralph walks in. I was as white as a ghost. He shook my hand, asked me how I became a Bills fan. I explained to him that my first football game watched was 14 years prior in 1984 against the Browns. He said oh yeah that was the game that...and proceeded to give stats from players in the game. I was shocked that he remembered the specifics from that game (I looked it up later, he was spot on). He shook my hand again and said he had to leave to go give Flutie the game ball. Class act all the way and still one of the best sports memories of my life. Also glad I could be there when he went into the Hall of Fame in 2009.”
- Tony Stewart

BILLS ALUMNI SHARE THEIR FAVORITE MEMORIES AND STORIES OF RALPH C. WILSON, JR.

"The day after Super Bowl XXVI, I was hanging out in my favorite newsstand in West Palm Beach, FL, smoking cigars with the owner behind the counter. I was proudly wearing my Redskins jersey and still celebrating the victory after watching the game with over 300 rabid, fellow native Washingtonians in a packed sports bar. While I was there, a gentleman came in to buy all of the New York papers, he was wearing his Bills jacket, and I mentioned that he must be a great fan for wearing this the next day. I then went on to brag about how well the Skins played and that the Bills never had a chance. No matter how much I boasted, the man was very polite and cordial, even wishing me a "good day" as he left. My buddy behind the counter had been kicking me behind the counter the whole time. "Don't you know who that was?" he bellowed, "That was Ralph Wilson, owner of the Bills, he has a house on Palm Beach!"

“All these years later, I can finally take my foot out of my mouth. RIP Mr. Wilson."
- Eric Krasner

“My first NFL Game was the Comeback Game. I was down by the Locker Room. I was just an Army soldier brought down by a Bills Player. He walked by with Van Miller shook my hand and said "What a Game huh?" the man loved football.”
- Lawrence Kordosky

"Mr. Wilson was a pioneer who gave deeply to the Buffalo community. Folks, there is a reason that you still see pictures of Reed, Kelly, Smith, Thomas, Ralph together. That you see current and past Bills in the community, making homes there, starting charities and it is because of the enduring love of the people of Western New York.

Sincerely,
Bills fan for life"
- Michelle Williams

"Monday Night Football 09/26/94
The Bills chose this night to honor and celebrate the 35th Anniversary year of the team.  We won as Elways' pass sailed thru the end zone.  As we started down the ramp out, coming up the ramp right at me, with no entourage or security: Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.

“His hand outstretched he shook mine, and patted my shoulder saying, 'Did you enjoy that game young man? We're in for a great season!' I remember being in awe of whose hand I was shaking and saying thank you for all his years.

“After that chance meeting, and still today, I run into someone who says, 'Did I see you talking to Ralph Wilson?' Or 'Was that Ralph Wilson with you?'

“A great moment, with a great man.  I've never forgotten that brush, and I never will."
- Kevin Okiec

WATCH: BILL POLIAN REMEMBERS RALPH WILSON


"Say hi to my dad for me, I know he wants to buy you a beer for those 1964 and 1965 AFL Championship wins!"
- Shawn O'Connor

“Mr. Wilson was one of a kind.  He treated everybody with dignity and respect.  We both shared a love for football and have had so many great conversations about football over the last 30 plus years.  You read so many stories about him and a lot of times in those stories it talks about how Buffalo fans had a hard time with him living full-time in the metro-Detroit area.  Well Buffalo fans should know that he always, and I mean always represented the Bills here in Lions country.  Everywhere he went he was always wearing Buffalo Bills gear from head to toe.  He wore his teams logo with the pride it deserved.  One winter I walked into the local Lowes in town.  I visited the store 3-4 times a week picking up things for my business.  I will never forget, it was the middle of winter and the day was cold.  I walk into Lowes and look down the aisle and see two Buffalo Bills jackets. One of them was Ralph.  I walked up to him and said hello.  He treated me with the same smile and respect he always had for so many years.  We walked in circles around the store for the next 30 minutes.  He would go there for his daily exercise and walk laps.  We talked about football. The Bills, the league, and the players coming out of college. Then we parted ways till the next time we would talk.  Two of the workers from Lowes came up to me and said "Hey Mike, doesn't that old guy know this is Lions country.  He comes here every day dressed in Bills clothing."  I laughed so hard and smiled and responded.  "You guys have no idea who he is do you?  He owns the Buffalo Bills, he is one of the reasons the NFL is what it is today."  Their faces were worth a million words.  I then told him don't make a big deal of it next time you see him and please respect him.  They did.  That is how Ralph was. He was one of a kind.  RIP Mr. Wilson.  You were a true class act.  It was a pleasure knowing you and Mary for so many years.  I hope you and my grandpa get to play tennis today up in the heavens.”
- Michael Leonhard

"So sad to hear of this...I will always remember in 1999 when I wrote a letter to him hoping to have my son, Matt, meet Doug Flutie while we were at the Steelers game in Buffalo. I sent the letters (also one to Doug Flutie), express mail the Tuesday before the game. We received a phone call on that Friday from Ralph Wilson's executive assistant asking if we could be at the stadium the next morning. We were not guaranteed to meet Doug Flutie but we would meet someone from the Bills. They rolled out the red carpet...we were sent up to the press room and that is where we met Ted Washington. They gave Matt a bag of memorabilia and took us down to the indoor practice field to watch the team practice. As they ended their practice, we were able to get many autographs including Doug Flutie's. It was an experience that we will never forget. Just because of a letter. RIP Mr. Wilson."
- Catherine Shope

REACTION FROM AROUND THE NFL ON PASSING OF HALL OF FAME OWNER


“After the Bills heartbreaking loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XXV I wrote Mr. Wilson a letter thanking him and the team for a fantastic season.  I was so humbled when he wrote me back.  Even though I now live in Orlando, the memories of going to Bills games will always be near and dear to me.”
- Mark Richardson

“My name is Fred Gadawski and I have been a season ticket holder for the past 15 seasons. I was born in 1983 and have been a Bills fan from the start. I never was able to have a conversation with Mr. Wilson but I have had the chance to simply meet him and shake his hand at training camps in the past. I simply want to say thank you for my Bills and for choosing Buffalo and Western NY to start a team so long ago. I have been able to share many amazing moments with friends and family at Rich Stadium and now "The Ralph" and those days and nights would not have been made possible without you keeping your word in keeping the team here in Buffalo where it belongs. So thank you for giving all of Bills nation a reason to smile, cheer, cry at times and of course SHOUT!! Thank you Ralph and may God bless you and your family. This year is for you! GO BILLS!!”
- Fred Gadawski

"My condolences to the Family and to the team.

“Mr. Wilson "Hack" gave me my job as a summer training camp equipment manager/assistant in 1972 & 73. Besides being an on-field equipment manager/coaches assistant, I was also a "driver." I spent a lot of time driving out to the airport to get him and bring him to camp and in 1973 to the new stadium. He was perfectly happy being picked up in one of the team's car with the logo vice a limo.

RIP Hack and good luck to the Bills"
- Rolfe L Hillman III

TRIBUTE TO RALPH WILSON


"When I first went to a Bills game in 1961 I was immediately struck by the love that that fans had already developed for this new franchise. Going to a game was like going to a family reunion...and it still is to this day.

“Thank you Mr. Wilson for everything...and we can only hope that the next owner has the same love for this family as you did."
- Bruce Buckborough

“When I was younger, I never got to go to see training camp when it was located in Fredonia.  But when it came to St. John Fischer, in my own backyard, I was there many times throughout camp.  I remember the first time I went, I was so caught up in the players, and overall feel of an NFL camp.  I had not been to a Bills game yet, and this was my first real contact with the NFL.  I remember my friends and I standing there pointing players out... getting more an more excited.  As we were talking, a golf cart was passing and I said "Hey!  That's Ralph Wilson!"  Apparently I said it way louder than I thought, and Mr. Wilson heard.  He had the driver back the cart up, and he got out and shook our hands.  You never, ever would have known that he was the owner of the team.  He was so gracious and willing to have a short conversation with us and shake our hands.  I am very thankful he chose Buffalo.  His imprint, and his legacy is and will continue to be on the team, the region, and most importantly, on the fans.”
- Chris Sykes

“I remember making him his Reuben sandwich that he liked at Danny's South...RIP sir, you are an inspiration. God Bless.”
- Robert Tuning