BUFFALO, N.Y. – Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who helped found the American Football League in 1960, died at his home on Tuesday afternoon. He was 95.
Bills president Russ Brandon made the announcement at the NFL winter meetings in Orlando.
Wilson was the founder and sole owner of the Bills after establishing the team with the upstart AFL in 1960. He played a key role in the league’s merger with the NFL. He was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Wilson died at his home in Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich., around 1:40 p.m., said Mary Mazur, spokeswoman for the Wayne County medical examiner’s office.
He had been receiving in-home hospice care.
“No one loves this game more than Ralph Wilson,” Brandon said in a statement. “It’s very tough. What he’s meant to the entire organization. He’s our leader, our mentor our friend. How he loves his players and loved our community. Special guy. They just don’t make them like Ralph Wilson.”
Wilson had been in failing health for several years after having hip surgery in 2011. Though he spent much of his time at his home suburban Detroit, he was well enough to attend the Hall of Fame induction weekends over the past few years.
After regularly attending Bills home games since founding the franchise, Wilson had not been to a game since attending one in 2010.
Wilson established a reputation as being the “conscience” of the NFL for his loyalty to fans and the several stands he took against franchise relocation.
“He didn’t let anyone pull anything off in him. He was very forceful,” New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson said.
“Mr. Wilson was a visionary and pioneer of professional football,” added Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank. “We have lost a founding member of the NFL family, but Ralph’s lasting impact on the NFL will forever be felt.”
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner in Orlando and Associated Press writer Mike Householder in Detroit contributed to this story.