ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – Saturday was a time of reflection, laughs and even some tears as Bills players from the last 50 years came together for a memorial in honor of the team’s one and only owner, Ralph Wilson Jr.
“It’s times like this that make you reflect and realize how truly special they were and you were blessed to have your paths cross and be together for so long. That’s what we had,” Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith said.
Smith got a laugh when he pulled out an old photo of himself with Mr. Wilson from the day Smith signed his first contract.
“It looked like he was praying that he didn’t waste his first round draft pick,” Smith said.
Retired players shared many stories about Mr. Wilson. In 1980, defensive back Jeff Nixon had three interceptions and a fumble recovery to help beat the Miami Dolphins for the first time in 21 games. After the win, Wilson sought Nixon out.
“He came right into the locker room and came right over to my bench and shook my hand,” Nixon said. “At the time he said it was the greatest victory in the history of the Buffalo Bills. I was like, wow, that includes the ’65 championship. But he wanted to beat the Miami Dolphins so bad. And it was a monkey on his back and the team’s back. I felt very proud of the fact I was there to help him do that.”
There were countless more memorable victories in the years to come. Frank Reich remembers Wilson’s generosity after the backup quarterback led the Bills to the greatest comeback win in NFL history.
“Basically wanted to give me a gift for the game and ended up writing a pretty big check to the charity of my choice. It was just something that was in his heart to do and he was just a very special man,” Reich said.
The players say he was more than just the team’s owner to them. “We kind of talked, you know, like son and father and I think people don’t realize the guy had the biggest heart of all,” Hall of Fame wide receiver Andre Reed said.
The players at Saturda’s memorial are thankful for what Mr. Wilson allowed them to accomplish, on the field and in life.
“And you’d be hard pressed to find that in the world of sports anywhere in this day and age,” Smith said.