While former players of the Bills were able to share stories of their interactions with owner Ralph Wilson, for the current players the interactions were fewer and further between. In no way however, has it taken away from the respect, admiration and dedication Buffalo's current roster has to again be a successful team for him. Now with his passing that commitment to getting back to the playoffs in his honor is at the top of their priority list for the 2014 campaign.
"He's a guy that we were all motivated by, but especially with his passing we want to continue to cement his legacy going into next season," said Fred Jackson. "That's something that all the guys here will focus on. We want to honor him and what better way to honor him than to win a lot of football games for him."
Jackson, a co-captain on the team in 2013, was not alone in his desire to do right by Mr. Wilson. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore was already thinking about dedicating the 2014 season to their late owner.
RIP Mr. Ralph Wilson Jr. Thoughts and prayers are with your friends and family. Can't wait to rock the Ralph this season in your honor. — The Gilly Lock (@BumpNrunGilm0re) March 25, 2014
Wilson's ability to connect on an individual level with so many of his players is what made it so easy for them to give maximum effort every time they took the field. Those connections will evidently continue even in the wake of his passing.
"He was always upbeat with our team and always had faith in us," said C.J. Spiller. "I can remember the first time I met Mr. Wilson after they drafted me. It was right before my press conference. He looked me in the eye and told me that I should put up a lot of points for the Bills and I told him I would. And I'm going to keep my promise to him this season. My job is to put up points for our organization."
"Those few opportunities that we did get to see him when he did have the strength to come around and give speeches to the team whether it was going into training camp or breaking training camp were significant," said Jackson. "I can remember every time he came in the locker room during pre-game and he would stop at my locker and tell me, 'You're the guy that's not supposed to be here and you keep proving them wrong.' He would try to touch everybody by saying little things like that so you knew he knew who you were. When you play for a guy like that you want to go out and fight hard for him."
Bills GM Doug Whaley, who was understandably appreciative of the opportunities he's been given by Mr. Wilson made sure to make mention of how their late owner has made it possible for them to steadily build the team into a winner again. That process, which was championed by Wilson, is something that Whaley, his staff and the players are confident will come to fruition sooner rather than later.
"He has set the foundation and laid the blueprint for us to build a winning organization," said Whaley. "Mr. Wilson said it best 'this is a people business.' We are a family and everybody matters. That is the blueprint Mr. Wilson put forth for us and I along with Russ Brandon and Doug Marrone subscribe to it whole-heartedly.
"We are all in this together as we move forward on this journey to get the Bills back to being a consistent, competitive team competing for championships. We are all pointed in one direction and we will continue fighting to get to where we need to be."
My Thoughts and Prayers go out to Mr. Wilson's family. Thankful to be a part of his creation and great franchise, The Buffalo Bills — EJ Manuel (@EJManuel3) March 26, 2014
Sad hearing of the passing of the great Mr. Ralph Wilson Jr. Forever indebted to him for all he has done for my family. A legendary man. — HiMom. (@StevieJohnson13) March 25, 2014
Jus heard the news of Mr. Ralph Wilson passing. Sending Thoughts and Prayers to the Wilson Family! I owe him a tremendous amount for — Fred Jackson (@Fred22Jackson) March 25, 2014
Opportunity to be a Bill! Mr. Wilson has done a lot for not only me and my teammates, but the entire NFL family. He truly will be missed! — Fred Jackson (@Fred22Jackson) March 25, 2014