Tonawanda News

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March 25, 2014

DUVALL: Wilson's passing brings fond memories, fears for the future

Tonawanda News — We stood in my grandparents' den, like my heroes on the sideline, holding hands. 

There we were. Jim, Marv, Bruce, Thurman, Andre, Steve, Cornelius, Daryl. And behind them all, Ralph.

We prayed together Norwood's kick would fly a true 47 yards and deliver the salvation we so desperately wanted and deserved. 

It was just a few feet off.

It's impossible at 8 years old, as I was for Super Bowl XXV — or just "25" — to know I was about to encounter a moment that would come to define so much about my life and my home.

The fellowship, the frustration and futility. The misery, the hopefulness it'll be better next time and the pride when, if only for a minute, it is.

It's all there in being a Buffalonian and the Bills have come to embody it.

Now the man who's responsible for it — and who may eventually come to be the man who let it slip away — is himself gone.

Ralph C. Wilson Jr., the Bills' founding owner and a true icon in Western New York, has finally passed at age 95. With it comes a palpable and very personal grief. There is much fear for what the future holds for our beloved team. There is an abiding gratefulness for all the wonderful memories we share because of them — because of Ralph.

On top of the already grim news Jim Kelly's cancer has returned and spread, I feel about like what I would imagine Marino used to feel like when Bruce tore around the corner and drilled him from the blind side.

Ralph's legacy in pro sports is rightly the stuff of legend. From his visionary quest in the upstart AFL a $25,000 investment turned into a franchise worth an estimated $860 million. Stories of his generosity and philanthropy fill the local airwaves on television and talk radio. Bills fans the world over are raising a beer in tribute. The barrooms from Oliver Street to Orchard Park are packed with the memories of a team that's so much more than that.

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