Before I get people complaining that he settles for mediocre coaching or he doesn't have a winning attitude, I want you to read the entire article to get a sense of Wilson's accomplishments in his almost 50 years of pro football. Then you can make an accurate decision before answering the poll.
The Hall of Fame Finalists
At least four candidates must be elected from the 17 listed but the total class cannot number more than seven. In order to be elected they must receive 80% of a yes/no vote. Here is the complete list of finalists: Bruce Smith, DE; Rod Woodson, DB; Shannon Sharpe, TE; John Randle, DE; Dermonti Dawson, C; Cortez Kennedy, DT; Cris Carter, WR; Andre Reed, WR; Richard Dent, DE; Russ Grimm, OL; Bob Kuechenberg, OL; Randall McDaniel, OL; Derrick Thomas, LB; Paul Tagliabue, Commissioner; Ralph Wilson, Buffalo Bills Owner; Claude Humphrey, DE; Bob Hayes, WR.
Wilson's legacy is a long and storied one. Keep reading to make up your mind whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame or not.
Let's start at the beginning of the franchise and the AFL. Originally, Wilson was a part owner of the NFL's Detroit Lions. He heard about Lamar Hunt's plan to put together a new league and tried to form a franchise in Miami but was rejected. In 1960 Wilson founded the Buffalo Bills as the seventh of the eight original American Football League franchises. Collectively, these owners were known as "The Foolish Club".
In the beginning, members of the NFL and the sports media regarded the AFL with considerable skepticism. Even though the early years of the AFL were at best a struggle and Wilson was losing money, he “never once thought of throwing in the towel or selling the team.” Wilson made small market football a success by signing such stars as Cookie Gilchrist, Jack Kemp, Tom Sestak and Billy Shaw. He was a guiding force in AFL policies that ensured the success of every team, such as gate and television revenue sharing. In 1961, with the rival Oakland Raiders in financial difficulty, Wilson loaned the club $400,000. Wilson helped keep the franchise afloat, likely saving the entire league from folding.
In the early years of the AFL, the Bills reached postseason play for four consecutive years, 1963–1966 winning the championship in 1964 and 1965. (They lost to New England in a playoff in 1963 and to Kansas City in 1966, just missing the first Super Bowl.) In November 1963, Wilson lobbied successfully to have American Football League games postponed the Sunday after President John F. Kennedy's assassination, while NFL games went on uninterrupted.
“The Foolish Club” did succeed and following initial talks in January 1965 between Wilson and the late Carroll Rosenbloom, then owner of the NFL’s Baltimore Colts, a full merger plan between the two leagues was developed and implemented. A former President of the AFL, Wilson served on the Expansion Committee of the AFL and the AFL-NFL Negotiations Committee.
Buffalo fan support has been magnificent under Wilson (whether you can attribute it to him or not). Attendance demands forced the expansion of the Bills' first inner-city home, War Memorial Stadium, from 26,000 to 45,748 during the 13 seasons the Bills played there. In 1973, the Bills moved to Rich Stadium in suburban Orchard Park, NY. Buffalo fans set an NFL single-season attendance record of 635,889 in 1991. Through it all, Wilson has remained as one of the longest-serving owners, in terms of longevity, in the entire pro football world. He has owned the Bills for 48 years and counting.
Wilson continues to be one of the league's most outspoken owners. He was one of only two owners (the Cincinnati Bengals' Mike Brown being the other) to oppose the league's current collective bargaining agreement, citing it's lack of sustainability for small market teams due to the high revenue alloted to players. He was recently proven correct with new talks that the NFL owners are unhappy with the revenue sharing portion of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and may reject the final year of the current CBA.
Once described as the “conscience” of the NFL, Wilson has also served as the Chairman of NFL Pension Committee and Labor Committee and currently serves on the Board of NFL Charities, the Super Bowl Site Selection Committee, and the NFL’s Expansion Committee.
Contributors in the Hall of Fame
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is mainly a player's Hall of Fame. Only 17 of the 247 members of the Hall of Fame are listed as contributors. The other owners already enshrined are: Bert Bell, owner of the Eagles and later the Steelers; Charles Bidwell, owner of the Chicago Cardinals; Al Davis, owner of the Raiders; George Halas, NFL founder and owner of the Bears; Lamar Hunt, co-founder of the AFL and Kansas City Chiefs Owner; Tim Mara, founder and owner of the Giants and Wellington Mara, owner of the Giants; George Marshall, original owner of the Redskins; Dan Reeves, owner of the Rams; Art Rooney, original owner of the Steelers; and finally Dan Rooney, owner of the Steelers. The other contributors enshrined are NFL presidents, team administrators, and NFL administrators.
Now it's your turn to vote. Does Ralph Wilson belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Is he going to make it this year?