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Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Wilson had ties to Michigan, Detroit

By Michael Rothstein

As the Detroit Lions continue to mourn the death of their majority owner, William Clay Ford Sr., one of his friends and fellow owners died Tuesday: Ralph Wilson.

Wilson was a minority owner of the Lions in the 1950's -- before Ford owned the team -- when he went to go purchase a team in the then-upstart AFL instead. That team was the Bills, and it would be the team he would be tied to for the rest of his life.

Wilson was born in Columbus, Ohio, but went to high school in Detroit and it was there, watching the Lions, where he fell in love with football.

"I went to my first pro football game in 1935. The Lions were playing the Bears," Wilson said at his Hall of Fame induction speech. "Since that time, I have been an avid pro football fan. As Chris (Berman) said, I went away to college and the Navy. When I came back, I went to work for my father, worked every Sunday at home we would go see a pro football game.
 
"During that time, I almost wanted -- I always wanted to own a football team so I'd have a little something to say about it."

By the time the Lions went up for sale -- and Ford bought the team -- Wilson had already owned Buffalo.

Wilson and Ford stayed close until the end. Team president Tom Lewand told the Lions' official team reporter that the last time he saw Wilson was earlier this month, at Ford's funeral.

"We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Wilson. He was a dear friend to Mr. and Mrs. Ford, the Ford Family and the Lions organization," Lewand said in a statement released by the team. “Mr. Wilson truly was one of the great visionaries and caretakers of our game. He was a great Detroiter and has left a lasting legacy for the city of Buffalo and Western New York.

"We lost a tremendous leader and a true friend today, and his contributions to the NFL will endure forever. Our deepest sympathies and prayers go out to his family, friends and the Buffalo Bills organization.”