On this date 25 years ago, the Buffalo Bills announced that team executive Pat McGroder would join O.J. Simpson and Jack Kemp on the team's Wall of Fame.
Many Bills fans recognize the man's name for its place on the Wall, but very few know how important he was to bringing the current incarnation of the Bills to Buffalo. Without McGroder, there may never have been professional football in Buffalo after the AAFC Bills folded in 1949.
When Ralph Wilson wanted to become a founding member of the AFL, he initially chose Miami as the site; when an agreement couldn't be worked out with the Orange Bowl, Wilson asked several friends where to place a team. Buffalo was at the top of many of their lists based on the support for the AAFC Bills in the late '40s. McGroder was Buffalo's sports coordinator and the liaison between Wilson and the city of Buffalo in the early going.
On October 23, 1959, Wilson met with McGroder and Buffalo Mayor Frank Sedita. According to McGroder's son, Pat III, in Rockin' the Rockpile by Jeffrey Miller, the elder McGroder wanted professional football back for 10 years and had lobbied the NFL "quite heavily" for a team to call Buffalo home. In fact, when Lamar Hunt first called regarding the AFL, McGroder passed, saying he thought his friends Art Rooney and George Halas would come through for Buffalo in the next NFL expansion. On August 29, the NFL announced that Dallas and Houston would be home to the two new franchises, leaving McGroder to finally accept the AFL's offer.
McGroder and Wilson worked out a deal to use Buffalo's Civic Stadium, renamed the War Memorial in 1960. The Bills played their games at the affectionately nicknamed "Rockpile" until what is now called Ralph Wilson Stadium opened in 1973. The pair also became business partners when Wilson offered McGroder a job as an executive with the team in 1961 partly because he wanted someone from Buffalo. McGroder's son explained his father's involvement in Rockin' the Rockpile:
"My father was the Buffalonian and the key to the community because he really was the guy in Ralph's kitchen cabinet that was from Buffalo. He considered the Buffalo Bills to be owned by the community. He considered it to be a community asset, and therefore everything he did while at the helm of the Bills, he did for the community because he believed the Buffalo Bills belonged to the people of Buffalo."
Working for $1 a year, McGroder held a variety of jobs with the organization over the years. In 1962, he was promoted to Vice President in charge of Marketing and Special Projects. In 1983, he was promoted to Executive Vice President and interim General Manager after the team relieved former Bills tackle Stew Barber of the GM duties. Terry Bledsoe took over for McGroder on the first day of 1984.
In the early '80s, McGroder spoke out in support of Wilson, giving what Budd Bailey at the Buffalo News called "a passioned and emotional speech defending Wilson's work with the team."
McGroder stayed with the team until 1985 when he retired to Arizona. Once he retired, the group that selects Wall of Fame members wasted little time in calling his name. He died a few shorts months later on January 15, 1986, in Scottsdale.