It was a defensive struggle for much of Sunday afternoon between the Bills and Lions, but Buffalo's late Hall of Fame owner likely would've loved it anyway because in the end the team he founded emerged victorious. With the right leg of Dan Carpenter lifting the Bills to a dramatic 17-14 win with an improbable 58-yard field goal, what is expected to be the final game for the franchise under the Wilson family ownership was brought to a fitting conclusion.
With the Wilson family ownership coming full circle in a final game with the Lions Sunday, a team in which Ralph Wilson had a minority ownership stake before founding the Bills, team President and CEO Russ Brandon could not help but think of the late owner.
"I was thinking of how he'd be complaining about some of the calls in the first half," said Brandon smiling in a jubilant postgame locker room. "I thought a lot about him today. I thought a lot about him on the way over (to the stadium). We usually talked before the game."
Mr. Wilson's widow, Mary Wilson was on hand for the game at Ford Field. Though she was not in the victorious locker room postgame, head coach Doug Marrone awarded her a game ball highlighting the fact that she would be going out a winner. The game ball was presented to Brandon on her behalf.
Marrone said he was aware that Sunday's game was likely the last under the Wilson ownership, but did not address it with the players until they gathered in the locker room following the game.
"It means a lot afterwards," Marrone said. "After the game I recognized it with the team. So it is a… there is emotion there, but our focus was coming here to win a game."
Mrs. Wilson is still adjusting to life without her husband and with the team being one of her last connections to Mr. Wilson the final weeks have been bittersweet. But Mrs. Wilson is far from the only person who misses the man who was the patriarch of the franchise since its inception.
"The most difficult thing for me over the last six months --- there's probably not a human being whom I spoke to more in my life than Ralph Wilson," said Brandon. "I talked to him almost every day, multiple times a day. It's been a huge void in my life.
"Everything with Mr. Wilson was about this team, about the organization. It was about our community and our fans. He just loved Buffalo so much, and he loved his hometown of Detroit. It's sort of fitting that everything ends here, and to conclude with a win it's really special."
And as the door closes on 54-plus years of vanguard ownership the next chapter is expected to begin in earnest this coming week when the league's owners vote to ratify the Pegulas as the next owners of the franchise.
"It's been a long six months, obviously with the sale process, but as I've said many times, the sale process hasn't been six months, it's been 18-years in the making," said Brandon. "To build our business, to put it in the position it is, to have the conclusion of the sale coming down to the Pegulas, an incredible family, it means to much to Buffalo already. I'm looking forward to Wednesday getting here. I'm certainly happy that we're going there 3-2. Obviously, we're looking forward to a successful outcome and it should be a special weekend at One Bills Drive next Sunday when we take on the Patriots."