DON’T GET ME STARTED is saddened by the passing of my friend Ralph Wilson. I know that many people who remember my criticisms of the Bills in 1989 will challenge my statement that he is my friend….he always has been my friend and, again, I’m saddened with his passing at age 95.

Ralph’s passing comes at a sad time as one of the greatest of Buffalo Bills – Jim Kelly – is battling an aggressive cancer.

The only owner that the Bills ever had was so very committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo, knowing that he would make a lot of money with a move. He was true to his word and the franchise has remained in Buffalo for well over a half century.

And now, fans will be keeping fingers crossed that the money hungry NFL won’t try to maneuver the Bills into another market. There will be scores of big money people stepping up to buy the team since his wife and daughters might be facing a big tax bite on a franchise that’s worth almost 900 million dollars.

But that will be dealt with in the forthcoming future. Right now I prefer to relate my experience and friendship with Ralph. I call him by his first name since he told me a quarter of a century ago to call him Ralph.

How far do I go back with my friendship with Ralph?

Let’s go back to 1969. While I was roaming around the country programming radio stations, I was always in tune with what was happening with the Buffalo Bills.

My first meeting with Ralph came in 1965 when I visited my home town. I went to the Bills office, in the Stattler Hotel at the time, inquiring about tickets in the new stadium and brought an album for my friend Jack Horrigan, PR director at that time who requested it when I called him. Ralph Wilson was there and said, “Hey, how about getting me that song from a  movie I saw, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”  Naturally I knew he was talking about “Raindrops Keep Calling” by B.J. Thomas.  He wrote his Grosse Pointe, Michigan address for me.  When I returned to the station, I sent him the album.

In 1970 I called his Michigan office and asked the receptionist if he had received it.  She said yes and followed with, “You don’t have a Glen Campbell laying around, do you?”  I sent her the entire Glen Campbell library.

Since I knew that Ralph owned television stations, I sent him a note on some proposed FCC rulings.  He replied, thanking me and saying that the next time I’m in Buffalo, to be his guest at a game.  When I came in, I accepted his offer and we became better acquainted.  I never took advantage of our relationship to get preferential treatment on tickets.  I bought 4 tickets in thenew stadium, first row in the end zone.  It took me years and years moving around to finally buy tickets in the club level in front of Wilson’s suite.

When I went on the air, our friendship blossomed though I kept criticizing for not using Jim Kelly and his talents that he displayed with the Houston Gamblers. Later, when the Bills began to terrorize the NFL, I lavished deserved praise on the team.

In the 90s when the Bills practiced in Fredonia, I was on the air from that site; Ralph was my guest on several occasions and we exchanged pleasantries at lunchtime.

There were many times that we sat adjacent to the practice field. We discussed the NFL and he knew that if something was “off-the-record” I would honor it.Many of the things he told me about a few owners intent on taking control of the league were in confidence and I never mentioned it on the air.

One time, we were sitting during practice and he asked me, “Hey, Art, when Ruben Brown comes by, would you introduce me. The surprise on my face said it all. He hadn’t met him. Brown was recruited by Ralph’s late daughter Linda Bogdan . Ruben came by and I made the introduction.

One time in Fredonia, he sought me out and told me that I must see a movie he went to the night before – that I would be impressed by it. I was. It was “Sleepless In Seattle.”

There were many other conversations. When I was on the air and fans would always ask about the future of the franchise, I aired an on-the-air marriage proposal to his daughter Linda to keep the Bills in Buffalo. One time, at a media luncheon staged by the Bills around 1994, Ralph spotted me and shouted out, “Hey Art, I don’t see the ring.” When I went to the games, Linda, I and Ralph would laugh about it.

It was a respectful friendship that I and another media member Larry Felser had with Ralph Wilson. He knew the media and knew we had a job to do. If criticism was warranted, he did not come down on us. He knew if the team did well – praise would be heaped on the team and organization.

Buffalo now is saddened by the loss of Ralph Wilson and the cancer battle of its best hero Jim Kelly. I know Buffalo joins me in prayers for Jim and a big thank you to Ralph Wilson on Don’t Get Me Started.

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