Later today, former Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith and team owner Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio. Smith, the NFL's all-time leader in sacks, will join his former teammates Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas (who were enshrined in 2002 and 2007 respectively), as well as his former coach Marv Levy, while Wilson is the twelfth team owner ever to be enshrined in Canton.
While some argue that his status as the league's leader in career sacks is bogus - and that players such as Reggie White and Deacon Jones were better players - it would still be very difficult for even the staunchest of naysayers to keep Bruce out of the top three defensive ends in league history. One of the leaders of the great Bills teams of the late '80s early '90s, Smith was one of the most explosive and dominant players at his position for 18 NFL seasons. After winning the Outland trophy in his senior season at Virginia Tech, the Bills made Smith their top pick, No. 1 overall, in 1985. Smith justified the selection by winning the AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year award that season.
While I would love to see his record broken, I doubt that any current or future Bill will ever approach Smith's 171 career sacks in a Bills uniform. (Just for perspective, Aaron Schobel is second on the list with 68.) Bruce Smith is the best defensive end we Bills fans have had the pleasure of rooting for, and that will more than likely be the case as long as we all watch football. Just watch this and see if you don't get fired up.
- 1985 AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year award
- NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice (1990, 1996)
- AFC Defensive Player of the Year four times (1987, 1988, 1990, 1996)
- Nine-time All-Pro selection.
- Eleven-time Pro Bowl selection.
- Thirteen seasons of ten or more sacks.
- 200 career sacks.
- NFL's All Decade team of both the '80s and '90s.
Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.
One of the charter members of the "Foolish Club," otherwise known as the group of men who started the American Football League, Ralph has been a football stalwart for over 50 years. Back in 1959, Ralph was a minority owner of the Detroit Lions. After inquiring for years with the NFL for an opportunity to be a majority owner of an expansion team - and having been rebuffed every time - Lamar Hunt's phone call was music to Ralph's ears. Hunt, another rebuffed prospective owner, was attempting to form a rival football league and was looking for someone to head one of eight teams for said league. After being shot down over stadium issues in his city of choice (Miami), Ralph began searching for another city with which to start his new franchise. He found Buffalo. Fast forward fifty years and Ralph Wilson is still the owner of the Buffalo Bills, and has been since their inception.
Without Ralph Wilson, the NFL would look very different today. Not only was he a charter member of the AFL, but if not for his continued support, the AFL might have folded. Wilson was determined not to see the AFL fold, so much so that he invested money into other teams to help keep them afloat, regardless of the fact that he himself was losing money. Wilson, along with late Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom, initiated the AFL-NFL merger. Imagine what football would look like today if those talks had never happened.
Ralph Wilson's teams have won two AFL titles ('64, '65) and appeared in four consecutive Super Bowls. The team's 103 wins during the 1990s was second to only the San Francisco 49ers.
Congratulations to both Bruce Smith and Ralph Wilson, Jr., and good luck with you speeches today fellas. These two men are truly cornerstones of Buffalo Bills football. Cheers!