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Pegulas wipe away tears, decades of fan anxiety with historic Bills purchase

Terry Pegula took time to stress he is not a god.

He finds those "In Terry We Trust" signs, Pegulaville references and reverential internet memes a bit unnerving.

"If you want to worship somebody, go to church on Sunday," Pegula said after he and his wife, Kim, were introduced as the Buffalo Bills' next owners today in the ADPRO Sports Training Center.

"It's sometimes a little bit uncomfortable to me that people try to make me something different than what I am. I'm just like everybody else in this room."

Terry and Kim Pegula don't have special powers, but they're arguably the most powerful people in Western New York.

The Pegulas emerged from virtually nowhere four years ago and now own the Bills and Buffalo Sabres and are completing the $172 million HarborCenter project downtown.

Their Bills purchase, setting an NFL record at $1.4 billion, absolved a region of a deeply rooted fear the team would relocate after Ralph Wilson's death.

"That has been an anvil on the backs of this community for years," Bills President Russ Brandon said.

Terry Pegula began to cry 50 seconds into his opening remarks. He battled the same emotions throughout his introductory news conference with the Sabres in 2011.

"I was humbled by you, all the fans, and the outpouring of emotion that I saw when our name was announced as the winner of the bid," Terry Pegula said. "I could not believe the pent-up fear of losing the team that was released by you, the fans."

This afternoon was the first time Terry Pegula commented at length about buying the Bills. He made a brief statement and answered three questions Wednesday once NFL owners unanimously approved the purchase.

Kim Pegula did not speak either time. For today's poignant, 45-minute news conference, she sat with the Pegula family in the gallery's front row. They have three children. Terry Pegula has two more from a previous marriage.

Among the highlights from Terry Pegula:

  • The team's mission "is to win the Super Bowl and bring championships to the City of Buffalo."
  • A new stadium will be researched, but no decisions have been made.
  • He said they "like the job" Brandon has done as president.
  • Kim Pegula's role was not defined, but he said she "will be involved" and "will put her touch on the organization in her own way."
  • Longtime CFO Jeffrey Littmann and executive vice president Mary Owen no longer are with the Bills and have stepped down from the stadium exploratory committee "by their design," Terry Pegula said.

The overall theme, however, was raw emotion and a cathartic release. Terry Pegula broke down several times and wiped tears from underneath his glasses.

The gravitas wasn't lost on those who attended.

"It's not huge. It's gigantic," former Bills player and Erie County Executive Ed Rutkowski. "The team leaving is a fear all of us had. The Bills are the fabric of our community."

Rutkowski coyly told The Buffalo News in June to "take his word for it" the Bills would remain in Western New York and not skip off to another town.

But whatever inside information that led to Rutkowski's confidence offered no guarantees until the Pegulas' bid destroyed those from rock star Jon Bon Jovi and entrepreneur Donald Trump.

"You never know," Rutkowski said. "There could have been somebody out there under the radar and with a ton of money and betting with their heart and not their mind.

"Maybe with ego, they would say, 'I want an NFL franchise,' and they overpay for it and move it to a different market like Los Angeles."

Among those in attendance today were Bills General Manager Doug Whaley, coach Doug Marrone, captains Eric Wood, Kyle Williams, Mario Williams and Corey Graham and former stars Thurman Thomas and Ruben Brown.

Bills icon Jim Kelly, who attempted to join a Bills ownership bid, was unable to attend because he was on vacation with his family.

The Sabres were represented by President Ted Black and General Manager Tim Murray.

Rutkowski, president of the Bills Alumni Association, has canvassed former Sabres about what the Pegulas are like as owners. Words from legendary Sabres enforcer Rob Ray resonated with him.

"I wanted to know what kind of relationship the Sabres alumni had with the Pegulas," Rutkowski said.

"He said, 'If the Pegulas buy the Buffalo Bills, you guys are going to think you've died and went to heaven. That's how good they're going to be to you.' "

No, it won't really be heaven. Or even Pegulaville.

But whatever happens with the Bills will be in Western New York.

"We can all buy many things in life," Pegula said. "We can buy a house. We can buy a car. If you have enough money there are 32 football teams in the National Football League you can buy.

"There's only one Buffalo Bills."

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