This story originally appeared on BuffaloNews.com on Oct. 18, 2019 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Bills franchise being awarded to Buffalo.
The official announcement was made on a Saturday afternoon, Oct. 17, 1959 – but Buffalo learned about it in the papers on Sunday, Oct. 18, and throughout the coming days as well, leading to what the Bills recognize as their birthday, Oct. 28, when Ralph C. Wilson Jr. was awarded a franchise.
Sports fans were completely abuzz.
“A frustrating decade of dust-catching applications, of vague promises and improbable possibilities has come to an end. Buffalo has a football franchise in league that will begin operation less than a year from now,” wrote Steve Weller in The News in the days following the announcement that Ralph Wilson picked Buffalo over a handful of other cities under consideration as the home for the AFL franchise he’d agreed to purchase.
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Wilson’s pledge ended a 10-year drought of pro football in Buffalo, which started when the All-America Conference folded in 1949 and the Buffalo team was not invited to join three other AAFC teams – the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts and San Francisco 49ers – in the NFL.
Weller called it “a lumpy path ahead” with putting a team and lease together with a startup league, but also said that Wilson’s commitment spelled the end of a decade of “coy hints and futile franchise searches.”
“You can't get into this with the idea that you're going to make a lot of money,” Wilson told News Sports Editor Charley Bailey. Bills fans might have been a bit more patient with what many saw as the owner’s penny-pinching had they known the good works that would be done with those pennies through the Wilson Foundation.
The final hitch was signing a lease for the Rockpile, then officially called Civic Stadium. To hit the break-even point that first season, Wilson said attendance had to hit 35,000 per game, with tickets priced at $5, $3 and $2.
If verbalizing financial worries was a familiar Wilson refrain, so, too, was his love and appreciation of Buffalo’s sports fans. We – or at least our fathers and grandfathers – are why he chose Buffalo, and he said so from that first day.
“Frankly, the enthusiasm of the Buffalo fans was a main factor. I studied the attendance records of the Buffalo Bills in the All-America Conference, the baseball attendance here, and I determined this city deserves a major league football team,” said Wilson on the day he made the announcement selecting Buffalo.
News Sports Reporter Cy Kritzer told us Wilson used the same binoculars to watch football that he used as a Navy officer on a minesweeper in World War II. He learned about Buffalo from a fellow officer as they patrolled the Mediterranean, leading efforts to pick up survivors from other ships that had been blown apart by Nazi airplanes and mines.