Great for Bills on field, uncertain off it
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
|Ralph Wilson (right) is the current owner of the Buffalo Bills. (QMI Agency file photos)
TORONTO - He looked around for the old man, just like he always does, only the old man has been nowhere to be found around the Buffalo Bills these days.
At the stadium that bears his name, Ralph Wilson has yet to make an appearance to watch his emerging football team in action this season.
“I thought about him a lot this week,” said Chris Kelsay, the linebacker who has played for Buffalo for nine seasons, almost all of them lousy. “As one of the guys who has been around here for a while, not just the players, but the people upstairs realize the state that he’s in.
“I think it was in the back of some of our minds. It was great to get him a win today.”
A win Sunday, but for how much longer? There is a lot of thinking about Ralph WIlson in and around the National Football League these days.
The owner of the Bills turns 93 next month and in this, the fourth season of the Toronto deal he snookered the good people of Rogers on, his age and is health has become more significant in not only a football way, but a civic way in Buffalo and an eerily opportunistic way in Toronto.
Wilson broke his hip in July and has not recovered sufficiently to travel from his home in Detroit to Buffalo for a Bills game this early season, and word around is he may not be well enough to travel to any games this NFL season.
His state of health and advancing age has quietly been part of the contextual backtrop to the five-year deal signed between the Bills and Rogers to play NFL games in this city.
This is Year 4.
There have been some hints of the deal being extended, even if it has come at a costly price to Rogers.
But almost from the day the deal was signed, there was an uncomfortable ghoulish aspect to it: The Toronto people wouldn’t say so for the record but at the time they believed they were taking out a five-year football insurance policy on Wilson’s life.
He was coming up to 90 when the five-year contract was signed with Ted Rogers, who has since passed away himself.
They announced the arrangement at one of the silliest Toronto press conferences of all time, with old-man Wilson and old-man Rogers chuckling like the Sunshine Boys of football and media, wondering how much they could gouge for Bills tickets at Rogers Centre — not realizing they were insulting the paying customers before any tickets had officially been sold.
Rogers passed away more than two years ago, leaving behind this convoluted football deal: Over-priced tickets for a football team no one cared about. It was the kind of combination that made no one happy.
Except for Wilson himself, who was being handsomely rewarded for selling out his own fans. Now, we fast forward to today and the Bills, at 3-0, look to be not only the best Buffalo team in a long time, but certainly the most entertaining. Three games in and they’ve scored 113 points, averaging just under 38 a game.
They are shooting the lights out, to use the old Don Matthews phrase. Those are numbers Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas would have been proud of.
The Bills appear to be on rise — but always with the question of the team’s future in the background.
Wilson has steadfastly said he will not sell the team and he has already said he will not will it to a family member — for tax reasons — upon his passing. That is the franchise confusion and for some time, that has been looked upon as a Toronto opportunity. It may never come to be — but the possibilities need to be looked at.
Upon Wilson’s passing, whenever that will be, his estate will be bound to sell the team to the highest bidder.
In a way, this removes both NFL interests and Buffalo’s civic situation from the equation, at least until the league is called upon for approval of the sale.
In most ways, this becomes a business deal and nothing else. The highest bidder will get the Bills.
Should that be a Buffalo bid, the team stays in Western New York.
Should it be a Los Angeles bid, the Bills end up in Southern California.
Should it be a Toronto bid - and there are problems here, like where would their permanent home be, not to mention the economics — then the Bills would move north.
In the language of the NFL draft, the Bills are on the clock, with an ailing owner, a stunning offence and an uncertain future.