Niagara Gazette

March 26, 2014

PFEIFFER: It was a pleasure, Ralph

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

I had the pleasure, and the privilege, to meet Ralph Wilson twice in my life.

And I guess it’s no surprise that, like the countless players who revered him, I called him “Mr. Wilson.”

In my career as a journalist, I’ve never really been a sports reporter. Not that I haven’t covered sports stories. I have. I even won an AP award for my “sports coverage.” 

But my first encounter with Mr. Wilson came while I was working as a news reporter. I was at what was then known as Rich Stadium, working on a story I can’t begin to remember, when I first crossed paths with the Bills owner. 

I approached him and introduced myself and my News 4 photographer. While I can’t remember the story I was doing, I remember Mr. Wilson’s reply to my approach.

He said, “Well hi Rick.”

Since I didn’t cover the Bills professionally, I had no hesitation at gushing about my love for the hometown team. I told him about how my dad had bought season tickets for himself and me, when I was just 6, the year the team started play.

“Thank you for bringing the team here,” I told Mr. Wilson. 

“No,” he replied. “Thank you, Rick, for being a fan.”

We chatted a bit longer. I don’t remember specifically what we talked about, but it didn’t matter.

I was talking to Ralph Wilson and he was talking to me. Wow.

A number of years later, our paths crossed again, at my wedding. 

When Mr. Wilson would come into town to attend Bills games, he stayed at the Buffalo County Club. He was acquainted with my future father-in-law. 

On the day of my wedding, the Bills were playing a preseason game in town, and Mr. Wilson was here. As he prepared to leave the country club to head to the stadium, he came downstairs and saw the staff setting up for a wedding reception. 

He was curious about why they were placing televisions in a room adjacent to where the reception was taking place. The staff told him that the wedding party had requested them so guests could keep track of, yes I admit it, a preseason Bills game.

Mr. Wilson asked whose wedding it was and when the staff told him, he asked that they pass along his best wishes to us through my father-in-law.

After the game, Mr. Wilson returned to the club. The reception was in full swing.

He saw my father-in-law and stepped over to ask where the bride and groom where. My father-in-law pointed us out.

Mr. Wilson walked over, shook our hands and wished us well. To say we were stunned was an understatement.

I mean, that man who just stopped in to extend his best wishes, that was Ralph Wilson. He seemed so real, so genuine and kind.

Listening now to those who knew him best, I realize I was lucky enough to have met not just the owner of the Buffalo Bills, but a really great man.

My heartfelt prayers go out to Mr. Wilson’s family. I’ll treasure the memory of having met him.