Ralph Wilson Stadium: 43 years later


Today, the stadium that Bills fans call home fans during Sundays during September-December is a destination quite like no other in New York. It has become more than just a football gathering place. One Bills Drive in Orchard Park, N.Y. has become a family-gathering place, where fans who only see each other eight times out of the year talk about their lives, their families, and most importantly, their beloved Buffalo Bills.

Originally, this was supposed to be a domed stadium…

43 years ago, on this day, April 4, it was just an idea that was beginning to become reality. It was just a 197-acre lot full of promises just waiting to be broken into. 16 and a half months later, it was ready for business. The field, which sits 50 feet below ground level, was ready to be run over by cleats and tackled onto by bodies upon bodies suited in pads. The seating areas, which go up to 60 feet above ground level, were ready to be packed by fans chanting and cheering on their team in jerseys of their favorite players.

It was the place to be on Sundays.

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The first game at then-Rich Stadium was held in 1973, and it’s a good thing they got it built. Two years earlier, owner Ralph Wilson Jr. was thinking of moving his franchise out west to the rainy city of Seattle, who then didn’t have a football team to call their own. The Bills owner called the 49,000-seat Memorial Stadium “inadequate, with no other choice but to move” according to an article in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

Originally, this was supposed to be a domed stadium, but the plans were eradicated when it was proposed that the dome would be near Lancaster High School. Hence, the stadium was built by Frank Schoelne and his construction company.

In one of the earliest examples of the selling of naming rights in North American sports, Rich Products, a Buffalo-based food company, bout the rights to the stadium in 1973. The contract was 25 years in length, at $60,000 a year. That has the same buying power as $170,914.08 in 2015, increasing the value of the contract if it was signed today by $2.77 million.

There was a matching offer by Wilson to name it “Buffalo Bills Stadium”, but by a county legislature vote of 16-4, the name was approved.

When this contract expired in 1998, the team voted to rename the stadium in front of the only owner they’ve ever known, a name that the Bills have kept on the stadium to this day.

The first playoff game in the NFL at the stadium came during the 1988 season, when the Bills defeated the Houston Oilers 17-10 on New Year’s Day, 1989. They did not lose a postseason matchup at the complex until 1996, falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 28.

Amid talks of a new stadium in Buffalo by owners Kim and Terry Pegula, there is no reason the Bills would be leaving Buffalo. They have a 10-year lease on the stadium, signed on December 21, 2012.