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Photo: Ralph Wilson
Mr. Ralph Wilson Jr., founder of the Buffalo Bills and the most influential sports figure Western New York ever has known, has died at age 95.

“He passed away peacefully at his home with his beautiful wife, Mary, and his daughters by his side,” Bills President and Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon told The News while at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla.

Wilson did not put Buffalo on the map, but he did as much as anyone to keep it there.

He brought major league sports to Buffalo in 1959, when he joined a group that became known as “The Foolish Club,” eight businessmen led by Texas oilman Lamar Hunt, who founded the American Football League. The initial cost to Wilson was $25,000, and challenging the established National Football League was considered a risky venture.

The investment became a stroke of genius, as pro football blossomed into America’s favorite sport. Wilson’s team is valued today at roughly $870 million, based on estimates by Forbes Magazine. The Bills arguably are the single-most identifiable and unifying institution in Western New York.


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March 25, 2014 - 3:05 PM / updated March 25, 2014 at 6:06 PM