Ralph Wilson Stadium Orchard Park, NY (Photo: Buffalo Bills)
Buffalo, New York: birthplace of the chicken wing; setting to a natural world wonder; and now, the permanent home of the Buffalo Bills.
As football fans recall, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. took a chance on the city of Buffalo in 1959. Mr. Wilson left his position, as a minority owner of the Detroit Lions, to establish the American Football League (AFL). The birth of the AFL paved way for the start of a new team, a team over which Mr. Wilson would have complete ownership, a team which represented our city – Buffalo, New York.
Through the significant contributions of Mr. Wilson and a small group of other owners, the AFL survived and thrived for about a decade, before merging with the NFL. For Bills fans, the day that Mr. Wilson founded the football franchise – he not only gave our city a sports team but he also gave Buffalo, a city with a rich history, the hope and possibility of a bright future.
Although Mr. Wilson was a Detroit native, he encompassed all the attributes of a true “Buffalonian” – a person who believes in Buffalo and all that Buffalo can be; a loyal individual, brave enough to take chances on this community and dedicate his work to making Buffalo a thriving city.
So, while Mr. Wilson may have only come to Buffalo to establish a football franchise, he dually succeeded in the creation of the ultimate family – The Bills family. In victory or defeat, we stand together – a dedicated and passionate fan base that rivals any other.
The strength of this ‘family’ was seriously tested after the passing of Mr. Wilson in early March. Fear that our treasured football franchise would become but a page in this city’s history just as Mr. Wilson has, struck this community hard. But with exuberant hearts and unwavering courage, the community dedicated itself to the public support of a new owner ensuring that their main objective would be a commitment to keep the Buffalo Bills franchise in the city of Buffalo.
The greatest testament to our unity came amidst adversity, at the reprimands of others. Individuals – uninformed, uneducated, and unfamiliar with our city – believed that they, somehow, knew what was best for our franchise. “Business men” with small minds and large pockets, discussed our team as nothing more than a business transaction. Many analysts, players, and deep pocket investors, deemed our city unworthy – a city with no room to grow.
Luckily, there was one family who knew better. A family with roots already invested in the life and growth of Buffalo, who already cared about the people in its community. A family who understood that losing this Bills franchise would mean squandering a significant part of our city’s identity. A family that made the history of Buffalo a possibility for the future. This family not only believes in Buffalo, but has also learned to “BILLieve.” They have become an important part of our family, of our community, and for that we will always be grateful for the Pegulas.
Sunday, October 12th marked the first game day of the Pegula’s ownership of the Buffalo Bills, and in no surprise, our community divulged ticket holders in Buffalo’s best: Starting with a heartfelt introduction of our new owners, the Pegula family, and finishing with our national anthem sung by Buffalo native and lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls, Johnny Rzeznik.
While the outcome of the game did not yield the fairy tale ending Bills fans had hoped for, we did not leave Ralph Wilson Stadium in vain. We left confident in the future of our team. We left knowing that we had a family “truly honored to represent a team and a city that [they] love.” And we left as Terry and Kim Pegula would have it – a part of “One Buffalo:” one city, one fan base, one family united together striving for growth and prosperity. A city, which we call home, filled with remarkable people, whom we call family.
This past Sunday (October 19th), watching our football team, fans truly witnessed the unwavering strength of “One Buffalo.” In a game where the Bills struggled to hold onto the ball, the team rallied together, during the final minutes of the game, to win. The Bills drove 80 yards downfield, and together, overcame adversity – including a 3rd and 12 and a 4th and 20 – to score a touchdown with one second remaining. Many individuals, including myself, viewed this game as a catalyst, a game that precipitates change from our losing culture. However, I cannot help but also recognize a parallel between this game and our growing city: No matter how long our “opponents” kept us down, our team – our city – discovered a way to prevail in triumph, because together we are “One Buffalo.”
Terry and Kim Pegula expressed they do not wish to be praised for their recent actions, nor for the lengths they went through to keep a historic piece of Buffalo in its rightful home. Despite this request, I do hope they will accept our city’s sincerest thank you.
Thank you for taking a chance on a Buffalo hockey team four years ago and on a Buffalo football team three years later. Thank you for investing in our wonderful city – and for believing in the people who live and work here. But, most importantly, thank you for seeing Buffalo through my eyes. For witnessing and imagining this city’s potential the way I do.
So Terry and Kim please know that you – like Mr. Wilson – are honorary “Buffalonian” in every sense of the word.
About the Author: Maggie Zuffranieri is a football enthusiast, Bills junkie, Buffalo aficionada, and college senior. She enjoys a good meal, ample amounts of coffee, and an open dance floor. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @moogie_zoof.