On this day as so many reflect on their memories of Ralph Wilson I feel it’s appropriate to do the same. One of the side benefits of working in broadcasting is that you occasionally get to meet people of importance and significance. One of those individuals in my career has been Ralph Wilson. In fact, there was a time when I had the privilege of being in Ralph Wilson’s presence on a regular basis. I’ll share a few of those occasions.
When I was working at WKBW-TV in the 1980′s the man who usually got the assignment of interviewing Ralph Wilson was Sports Director Rick Azar. Rick knew Ralph the best and had a long history of covering the team and Mr. Wilson. Ironically when I got the word on Tuesday of this week of Ralph’s passing I was with Rick Azar in the studios of WBBZ-TV and was the one to break the news to him. Rick was stunned to hear it.
So as I just mentioned, Rick Azar was usually the guy to interview Ralph, but in 1989 Rick had retired and I was given the assignment of doing a sit down with Ralph. The interview was for a preseason Buffalo Bills special on Ch 7 that station did every August. I’ve written before on how in that interview Ralph Wilson hit me with this bombshell statement, ” I’ll move this team if the County doesn’t build a new stadium.”
Ralph was angry that night because a transformer had blown in the stadium prior to the team’s preseason game with New Orleans and it had delayed the start of the game by over an hour. I was the only reporter with access to Mr. Wilson that night due to the fact the interview had been set up well in advance, so Ralph used me as conduit to convey his displeasure to the Erie County leadership.
That story was then the biggest of my career, but it was also the first opportunity I had to spend any meaningful time with Ralph Wilson. That introduction meant he would later greet me warmly when our paths crossed again.
During the Super Bowl years I did numerous interviews with his Ralph Wilson and his self depreciating humor meant we usually shared a laugh. As others have said, Ralph always enjoyed a good laugh and of course so do I, so I enjoyed those times.
My work as as a Master of Ceremonies has also meant sharing a few head tables and microphones with Ralph Wilson over the years. We had a great time at both Larry Felser’s and Marv Levy’s testimonial dinners and Ralph was always one of the highlights. However, the biggest stage I got to share with Ralph Wilson was at the Wall of Fame ceremony for Jim Kelly in 2001.
I was asked to serve as the MC for the big half-time ceremony for Jim on that Sunday afternoon and my first introduction was of course Ralph C. Wilson Jr. The photo above shows a younger Bob Koshinski, complete with mustache, watching Mr. Wilson conduct the honors for Jim Kelly.
I also had a few private moments in Ralph’s company and the one that stands out was in 1999 when I traveled to the Stadium with my then boss, John Rigas. John, the owner of Adelphia Communications and the Buffalo Sabres, had been personally invited out to One Bills Drive to meet with Mr. Wilson. John asked me to accompany him because of my professional relationship with Mr. Wilson and also because the conversation centered around partnering with the Bills on a new radio station John was looking to purchase.
Ralph Wilson already owned a few television stations across the country and when he heard that John, who owned the Empire Sports Network, was getting into radio he wanted to discuss a possible joint purchase. Mr. Wilson was interested in a partnership that would create an all-sports station that would broadcast both Bills and Sabres games. That is the case now with Entercom and WGR, but in 1999 the broadcast rights for both teams were held by two different radio stations.
Tim Rigas, John’s son, was not interested in partnering with the Bills because he saw them as competitors for the sports dollar in Buffalo. The Rigas family passed on the offer, but that afternoon with Ralph Wilson and John Rigas was one of the most interesting that I have ever spent.
Five years later Ralph Wilson and the Bills were interested in purchasing the Empire Sports Network. Empire Sports was available because of the Adelphia Communications/Rigas family meltdown. The entire company and subsidiaries had been placed in bankruptcy and the new Board of Directors was on a slash and burn mission.
After three weeks of due diligence by the Buffalo Bills the purchase was suddenly canceled when the NFL stepped in and halted any further moves by teams creating their own regional sports networks. The NFL was eliminating future competition with their own NFL Network which was still trying to gain ground. So twice I almost ended up working in some capacity with Ralph Wilson and his beloved Buffalo Bills, but it was never meant to be.
Ralph Wilson’s reputation in this town has always been a roller coaster ride depending on the success of the team. In the late 1980′s the Bills front office was very sensitive to Ralph making an appearance on the field as part of any pregame or halftime ceremony due to the booing of the fans. However, as the team went to four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990′s Ralph’s relationship with the fans greatly changed.
Even as the team struggled the past ten years, Ralph was still appreciated for his dedication to the region and his promise to keep the Bills in town. In fact, over the past decade Ralph Wilson has finally received the recognition for being a true pioneer in a sport that needed his business acumen to protect the smaller markets in the league. Ralph Wilson’s involvement in the National Football League is one of the reasons why it has become the juggernaut that it is.
I personally am fortunate to have had the privilege to share some brief time with this man. An individual that history will show meant so much to a team, a sport and a region.
Filed under: Koshinski's Korner