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Bills fans, players pay tribute to late owner

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 5, 2014 at 5:06 pm •  Published: April 5, 2014
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — With hundreds of pictures and mementos on display honoring Buffalo Bills' late owner Ralph Wilson, Bruce Smith couldn't resist bringing one more on Saturday.

The Hall of Fame defensive end pulled out a photo taken the day he signed his rookie contract in 1985. The picture showed Wilson with his hands across his face as if he were praying.

"He has that worried look on his face, like, 'Lord knows, I hope I'm not wasting this draft pick on this chubby kid from Norfolk, Va.,'" Smith said, laughing. "I thought it would be befitting I brought this, and showed some of the players. And they got a big laugh out of it."

"That," said Smith, who became the NFL's career leader in sacks, "is one of my special memories."

There were many during a public remembrance celebrating the 95-year-old Hall of Fame owner's life.

With Frank Sinatra — Wilson's favorite — playing over the loudspeakers, and an array of photos, trophies and souvenirs spread throughout the team's practice facility, former and current players, employees and thousands of fans paid their respects to the team's founder, who died at his home in Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich., on March 25.

"The Bills are more than just a football team. They're family," said Matt Guarino, a 20-year season-ticket holder. "So we came to pay our respects just like we would any friend and any family member."

The remembrance took place a week after a private funeral service was held in Detroit.

The mood on Saturday was festive. Under grey cloudy skies and with a cold brisk wind blowing off nearby Lake Erie, a long line of fans snaked into the parking lot once the doors opened. Many wore team jerseys and posed for pictures in front of the Wilson memorabilia.

The displays circled the fieldhouse, and featured many significant moments of Wilson's life: From childhood pictures to the medals he earned serving in the Navy during World War II, and photos of Wilson with his fellow American Football League founding owners. There was a painting of Wilson watching the Bills' 1993 Super Bowl loss.

The franchise's two AFL championship trophies were displayed, as was Wilson's Pro Football Hall of Fame bust and gold jacket.

In the middle of the field, the Bills recreated the layout of Wilson's office. There was a team helmet on the coffee table, press releases on his desk, as well as a picture of him and his wife Mary.

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