Fellow NFL Owners Pay Tribute Following The Passing Of Bills' Ralph Wilson Jr.
NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL cleared the meeting room at the league annual meeting yesterday of all but owners and a few others when he received news of the passing of Bills Owner RALPH WILSON JR. Sources said that Wilson had communicated his desire that his peers be the first to hear the news of his passing, and so Goodell informed the owners of the news (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer). In Buffalo, Tim Graham notes Bills President & CEO RUSS BRANDON was at the meeting yesterday when Wilson's wife, MARY, called him. Brandon "excused himself from the Ritz Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes meeting room," and then texted Goodell, who "still was in the meeting." Brandon told Goodell "to join him in the corridor" so he could pass along the news. Goodell "returned to the meeting and waited for a natural break." He then asked "everyone who wasn’t a principal owner to leave the room." Eagles Owner JEFFREY LURIE: "I don't think that's ever happened." Every owner who was "in that room described the moment as poignant," as Goodell "announced to Wilson’s peers that he was gone." Lurie: "There were tears, but it was just absolute quiet" (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/26).
OWNERS PAY TRIBUTE TO WILSON: Several NFL team owners and high-ranking execs yesterday expressed their thoughts of Wilson from the meeting in Orlando. Chiefs Chair & CEO CLARK HUNT said, "Ralph had a significant impact on the evolution of pro football. He took risks and made decisions that helped mold the NFL into what it is today" (K.C. STAR, 3/26). Giants President & CEO JOHN MARA: "The NFL is a much better league because of people like Ralph Wilson. He had a lot of character and integrity and was not afraid to be the lone dissenting voice" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/26). Mara added, "He always voted his conscience. ... He is somebody that we are going to miss a great deal" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 3/25). Jets Owner WOODY JOHNSON: "Ralph was so important in developing football into what it is today. He was the NFL. He was the AFL. He was always a guy that was up to the task" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 3/26). Patriots Owner ROBERT KRAFT: "One of the things I learned was his great respect for the shield. … He always put the fans first." Redskins Owner DANIEL SNYDER said Wilson was "one of the first owners to spend time with me when I first got into the league” ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 3/25). Vikings Owner ZYGI WILF said Wilson "was a great owner who was there from the beginning." Wilf: "As a new owner, I learned a lot from him" (USA TODAY, 3/26). Saints Owner TOM BENSON: "When you look back, I think a lot of his legacy was in the meetings themselves, because he didn’t let anybody pull anything over him. And he really fought for a lot of rights” (QMI AGENCY, 3/25). Broncos President JOE ELLIS: "He's an original AFL guy and a guy that helped hold it together and assisted LAMAR HUNT in the merger. One of the game's pioneers. And a great guy" (DENVER POST, 3/26).
TOUGH DAY FOR BILLS FAMILY: Former Bills GM BILL POLIAN said it was a "sad day for everybody in the Bills family." Polian, now an ESPN analyst, said of Wilson, "He gave me my start in this business as a general manager when no one even knew my name, so I have a great regard and a great affection for him.” Polian: “He was passionate about his team, very demanding about his team. But he had a very, very great sense of humor and (was a) very kind person. People that are close to the Bills know about the many kindnesses that he shared with people over the years with absolutely no public notice, he didn’t want any and he would get annoyed if it happened” (“NFL Insiders,” ESPN2, 3/25). Polian continued, "He picked me and gave me a chance to do the job. Gave MARV LEVY and I every opportunity to succeed, and for that I will be forever grateful.” Polian: “You didn’t need a contract with him. If he shook your hand and gave you his word, he was as good as there was” ("NFL Live," ESPN, 3/25).
ANOTHER LEGEND LOST: In Philadelphia, Zach Berman notes Wilson is the "third NFL owner to die in five months," following Titans Owner BUD ADAMS and Lions Owner WILLIAM CLAY FORD SR. Lurie said, "We're starting to lose some of the icons of the NFL/AFL over the last year, but they were great lessons for some of us on loving the sport ... and loving your community and your team. This is the only sport that's family-operated. It's not a Fortune 500 corporation running teams. It's a family entity. And I think it's one of the keys to the success of the sport. It's more from the heart" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/26).