BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — With the Bills’ long-term future in Buffalo appearing secure and their best quarterback in franchise history cancer free, the team spent Friday evening celebrating the life of the man who started it all.
“This is a special day even though the torch is going to be passed on, we’re still here to celebrate Ralph Wilson,” said former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, who announced last week that he was cancer free after getting treatment for sinus cancer.
More than 300 attendees gathered at Shea’s Performing Arts Center to celebrate the life of Buffalo Bills founder Ralph Wilson, who died in March at age 95, just days after his estate reached an agreement to sell the team to the owners of the Buffalo Sabres.
“I just think about tonight what Mr. Wilson has meant to Buffalo, what he’s meant to my career and so many people he’s touched … I thank God every day that he was here,” Kelly said.
ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman, who served as Wilson’s induction speaker at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009, was among those scheduled to speak, with Kelly, Russ Brandon and Marv Levy also taking the stage alongside emcee John Murphy.
“Ralph represented the city of Buffalo and western New York region the way I think it would like to have been represented, and I don’t know anyone who could’ve done it better,” Berman said.
The Bills’ future in Buffalo was aided by a lease agreement, signed off by Wilson and approved by NFL owners last year, that included a strict non-relocation clause that essentially prevented the team from moving before the 2020 season.
“He weathered a lot more storms than we’ll ever know,” Berman said. “He never wanted credit for a lot of good.”
The new owners of the Bills, pending league approval, will be Terry and Kim Pegula, who will pay an NFL-record $1.4 billion to purchase the team.
Former general manager Bill Polian and current Bills coach Doug Marrone were also scheduled to attend, as well as Wilson’s widow, Mary Wilson.
“It’s kind of a collection of a lot of friends, and I think that’s the way Ralph would’ve liked it,” Berman said.
The event includes a video tribute to Wilson, followed by the speakers and a dinner on stage.
And with the Bills at 1-0 and their long-term future looking strong, there was a positive mood among the guests. That included Kelly, who completed chemotherapy for sinus cancer three months ago.
“I’m doing all right,” Kelly said. “I still have a long way to go. When someone cuts 12 holes in your mouth, you’re going to be sore for a while and I plan on being sore for a while. The key is they found no cancer.”