The following is a collection of statements and thoughts from various NFL figures, following the death Tuesday of Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson:
ESPN NFL host Chris Berman:
"Ralph Wilson was a giant in the truest sense of the word. He loved life and treated every day as one in which the glass was half full, not half empty. He had a twinkle in his eye and a cackle and his easy laugh for every one of his 95 years. He was loyal to everyone and everything pro football, and of course, he was loyal to Buffalo. Others might have considered moving the Bills, but Ralph Wilson understood they are an integral part of the fabric of western New York, and never gave it a thought. He was loyal to the NFL – if it was good for the league, it was good for him. If he hadn’t lent money to teams in the early days of the AFL, that league wouldn’t have survived, and the NFL wouldn’t be what it is today. Above all, he served the United States in World War II in the Navy in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Long ago, they stopped making men like Ralph Wilson."
Bills running back C.J. Spiller:
"I would like to send out my condolences to the entire family of Mr. Ralph Wilson. He will forever be remembered and loved by myself and the rest of the Bills fans across the world. I personally want to thank Mr. Wilson for drafting me and showing me what a great organization he has built. As I sit here and think back, I remember first meeting him shortly before my press conference the day after the draft. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘I know that you will put some points up for us.’ I will not let you down, Mr. Wilson. May God be with you and your family always. This world has lost a great leader, but his legacy will surely live on forever."
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank:
"Mr. Wilson was a visionary and pioneer of professional football. He was instrumental in the merger of the AFL and NFL in 1970 and was a key reason for the success of the NFL as we know it today. On behalf of my family and the entire Falcons organization, I extend our condolences and prayers to Ralph’s wife, Mary, his daughters and his extended family, as well as to members of the Bills organization. We have lost a founding member of the NFL family, but Ralph’s lasting impact on the NFL will forever be felt."
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft:
"I would like to extend my sincerest sympathies to Ralph’s wife, Mary, his daughters and his extended family, including every coach, player, staff member and fan of the Buffalo Bills who are mourning his loss today. As one of the founding fathers of the AFL, Ralph deserves a lot of credit for taking that initial risk and for the many contributions he made to the NFL over the past 54 years. He built a franchise that the Buffalo community loves and embraces. Personally, I will always be grateful for how he welcomed me when I first entered the league. He was always a gracious host and I will never forget that. I will miss him."
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett:
"Ralph Wilson passing away; he’s a legendary figure in the National Football League. He’s one of the founding fathers of the American Football League and has been an owner for a long, long time obviously the Bills have had great teams through the years and he’s been the patriarch of that franchise and really a leader in the American Football League and a leader in the National Football League as well. So it’s certainly a loss to everyone in the NFL family in addition to his family, again a legendary figure in this league."
New York Jets owner Woody Johnson:
"It’s the end of a real important era. He was so important in developing football to what it is today – the NFL. He was the AFL. He was always a guy that was up to the task. He had a great sense of humor, he was a great speaker, Hall of Fame. I heard his Hall of Fame speech he gave at 91. It was better than most people could give at 31. Really just an incredible leader. Great vision. And so it’s the end, really, of a major, major part of American football, to lose a guy like Ralph Wilson. He’s one of the first guys I met when I decided to pursue this line of work. He described the satisfaction he got out of it, working with the players, the fans and building this league. It sounded like something that was very interesting. We’re lucky to have had a guy like that because you had a guy like that at the right place at the right time, who formed this league."
"The Denver Broncos are very saddened by the death of Ralph Wilson. One of the founding American Football League owners, Mr. Wilson guided the Bills with great vision and passion for more than half a century. He loved the game, and his contributions to the league as Pro Football Hall of Fame owner will always be remembered. Mr. Wilson's presence will be missed throughout the NFL, and our thoughts are with his family and the entire Bills organization."
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson:
"The National Football League lost one of its visionaries [Tuesday] in Ralph Wilson Jr. The thoughts and prayers of my family and the Saints organization go out to his wife, Mary, and the rest of the Wilson family. Personally to me, Ralph was a valued friend and colleague since I first entered the National Football League in 1985. Professionally, Ralph contributed so many things to the sport and the league we love. His vision and leadership first became evident when he founded the Bills and helped lead the merger of the AFL and the NFL. He continued throughout his ownership to foster the growth of our game and our league and all of us who have benefited in this game owe Ralph Wilson Jr. a debt of gratitude today."
Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown:
"He was someone we all respected. He was one of the pioneers of the American Football League, he loved the game and what it meant to Buffalo. I remember not so long ago at one of our games he would walk through the parking lot and he had made the comment publicly that as long as he was alive the Bills were going to stay in Buffalo and he said some fan yelled at him ‘I hope you live to be 200.’ He was a great guy and we’ll all miss him."
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones:
"Ralph Wilson was a founder of our game, one of the cornerstones of the AFL, and a great American sportsman. He had a tremendous competitive spirit, and his contributions to professional football were very meaningful and significant."
New York Giants owner John Mara:
"He was always for the small-market teams, when he got up to speak and it was not that often you could hear a pin drop people in the room listened to him and respected him. My family goes back so many years with him he and my father were very close and my mother were close to him for years. He had a lot of events together with my family and just a gregarious and generous guy. I think all of us are going to miss."
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan:
"I am very sorry to learn that Ralph Wilson passed away [Tuesday]. Ralph was remarkably warm and helpful to me as I knocked on doors to explore ownership in the NFL. Given his legacy as a builder and visionary, I imagine Ralph was able to relate to my dream to one day join him as a team owner. I’ll never forget his kindness to me and will always treasure the letter he wrote welcoming my family to the NFL in 2011. My sympathy and best wishes to his family and fans of the Buffalo Bills."
Houston Texans owner Bob McNair:
"Ralph Wilson was a good friend. He was one of the great pioneers of the AFL and great owners in the NFL. We are all going to miss him. Our relationship extended beyond the football field. We were both involved in thoroughbred racing and had many happy moments together watching horses training and competing. Our condolences go out to Mary and his family. We wish them the very best as they deal with their loss."
Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie:
"This is one of the icons of the league. When I came into the league he was a great example of someone who loves his franchise, loves his fans' heart and soul. It was all about [the] Buffalo Bills. He loved what he founded, which is the AFL and Buffalo. He’s someone that always voted with his heart, invested with his heart. Sometimes when you’re in a market that’s having lots of problems like Buffalo it’s not that easy to compete. He did his very best at all times. I have a lot of respect for Ralph and [he's] somebody I always looked up to. It’s a sad day. 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, which we all come in with. We don’t come in as a business venture, I think most of us come in because we love football, and loving your community. Whether it was Bud Adams or Ralph Wilson and many others, these are good lessons to always be reminded that this is the only sport that’s family operated. It’s not a Fortune 500 corporation that’s running teams, it’s a family entity. It’s one of the keys to the success of the sport. It's more from the heart."