Raiders fans should lower their Raider Nation flags to half staff this week and toast the memory of Ralph Wilson.
Wilson, the founder of the Buffalo Bills and a charter member of the American Football League whose generosity more than 50 years ago helped save the Raiders, died Tuesday at 95.
Wilson, a visionary, plopped down $25,000 to buy into the AFL in 1959 as the seventh franchise of the fledgling league that aimed to offer something different – and better – than the NFL. The Raiders were the eighth and final AFL entry, and the AFL kicked off in 1960.
In the fall of 1962, the Raiders were hemorrhaging money, broke to the point that Wilson offered a $400,000 loan – an enormous amount then – to keep the team afloat. Wilson feared the AFL would be doomed if one or more teams folded.
Back then, the Raiders were a desperate, floundering franchise, saved by what would become a rival.
A year later, Al Davis, then 33, was hired as the Raiders’ general manager and coach. In 1966, Wilson helped lure Davis to the AFL front office to become commissioner. But without Davis’ knowledge, the AFL owners were negotiating a merger with the NFL, something Davis didn’t want because he thought that in time the AFL would be the superior league. When the merger was announced in June 1966, Davis resigned and rejoined the Raiders.
And the rest is history, with Davis and Wilson becoming two of the most influential owners in NFL history.
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