Bills salute late owner before home opener

Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly speaks during a tribute to late Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. before an NFL football game between the Bills and Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
Gary Wiepert

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Ralph Wilson's legacy was immortalized in gold on the stadium that bears his name.

Fans at a sold-out Ralph Wilson Stadium gave its late namesake a standing ovation Sunday as the Buffalo Bills saluted their founder before the home opener against the Miami Dolphins.

Wilson, who died in March, was one of many Bills legends whose names were written in black along the upper bowl of the stadium. Those names have been changed to gold during the $130 million renovation of the stadium this summer.

''He was a man of high ideals who set a high standard for himself and those he worked with,'' said emcee John Murphy, the Bills radio play-by-play broadcaster.

Murphy then introduced the team's Hall of Fame quarterback and the fans' cheering reached fever pitch. Jim Kelly recently announced he was cancer free after getting treatment for sinus cancer, and the crowd saluted him.

The home opener comes at the end of a busy week for Bills fans. They learned that the new owners of the team, pending league approval, will be Terry and Kim Pegula, who will pay an NFL-record $1.4 billion to purchase the team.

The Bills' future in Buffalo was aided by a lease agreement, signed off by Wilson and approved by NFL owners last year, that included a strict non-relocation clause. That essentially prevented the team from moving before the 2020 season.

Earlier Sunday, the Bills held a ribbon-cutting for the refurbished stadium, with the renovations significantly altering the game-day experience. Wilson's widow, Mary, led the ribbon-cutting, with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Bills CEO Russ Brandon speaking as well.

Wearing her late husband's 1964 AFL championship ring, Wilson saluted Cuomo, Poloncarz and the more than 800 workers who renovated the stadium.

''I wish we had a game ball for every one of them,'' she said. ''Each one was so important.''

The upgrades include new fan-friendly amenities such as larger concessions stands, a sports bar, easier access into the stadium and wider concourses.

The key renovations include 3 million feet of linear cable to improve communications and technology in the stadium. There are also two new video boards and 53 more points of entry.

''It took real friendship and real commitment and real loyalty to stick with Buffalo in the dark days, and that is the story for Ralph Wilson and Mary Wilson,'' Cuomo said.

''And that is the story of true friendship. Don't tell me who's with you when things are easy. Tell me who's with you when things are tough and when it's hard and you're not winning. And that's Ralph Wilson.''

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