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Buffalo Bills owner played huge role in AFL-NFL merger 50 years ago

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It's been 50 years since the AFL and NFL merged, with Bills owner Ralph Wilson playing a key role.

The Buffalo Bills two AFL Champiponship trophies are displayed at the Ralph Wilson, Jr. Memorial event.
The Buffalo Bills two AFL Champiponship trophies are displayed at the Ralph Wilson, Jr. Memorial event.
Matt Warren

Today is the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the AFL-NFL merger. It would take several years for the two leagues to become one, but the deal was officially signed on June 8th, 1966, led in large part by Buffalo Bills founder and owner Ralph Wilson, Jr.

Mr. Wilson's biggest contribution to the merger came in the form of finances. He kept the league viable with a loan to the Raiders, keeping them solvent and allowing the league to continue to compete with the juggernaut NFL. He brought revenue sharing to the AFL and later pushed for its adoption in the merged NFL, keeping small market teams viable across the country and financially competitive with each other. In 1964, Wilson was one of three owners that negotiated the AFL's new television contract that put the league on nearly equal footing with the NFL's deal, allowing the league to stay competitive in bidding wars for star players and draft picks that ultimately turned the tide toward merger.

But Wilson knew the AFL would need to join forces with the NFL to survive, and privately pushed for the merger according to Gil Brandt and echoed in owner statements upon his death. After both sides wanted to call a truce to keep player costs down, Wilson was tapped to broach merger talks with the NFL. Wilson and Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom met and hammered out the framework for a deal that was eventually ratified 50 years ago today.

Wilson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009 on the back of these and his many other accomplishments as an AFL and NFL owner. He passed away in 2014.