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A man who maintains a large stable of racehorses and has owned a share of the Detroit Lions (with his father) plus a piece of the collapsed Detroit soccer franchise, Wilson is not given to dilettantish dabbling in sports. His AFL team is a profitable enterprise, and he means to keep it that way, even if it means moving to the Yukon. "Buffalo is an excellent sports town, like all major Great Lakes cities, and I don't regret for a minute having located the Bills there, but now they've got to move ahead, develop for the future."
While acknowledging Buffalo's image problem, Wilson firmly denies that it is that bad. "Buffalonians will support a loser as well as any city, and our attendance the past two years has proved it. Despite a losing 1967 season we sold 22,000 season tickets this year, and I'd expect sales to go as high as 45,000 with a new stadium. The city's weather is no worse than a number of other big-league towns, although it does get a lot of snow after the 15th of November—when it doesn't really matter."
Sitting there in Detroit, Wilson symbolized another Buffalo dilemma. "There are very few home-owned industries in Buffalo, and that causes a number of problems. It reduces the number of key local people who can rally big area businesses to the support of sports enterprises and it reduces the number of men who might be traveling around the country selling Buffalo on a national scale."
Despite his awareness of Buffalo's shortcomings, Wilson makes it perfectly clear that he intends to keep the Bills in town if he possibly can. But that means the implementation of a new stadium, and the dirt must begin to fly soon if Wilson and his team are to be kept around. "The present talk centers around a domed stadium, but I've questioned whether a facility of that type might not be too expensive for Buffalo. We've recommended a 'Spartan-type' stadium of about 70,000 seats that would cost around $20 million. However, if they want to build a domed stadium, it's fine by me, although I feel parking and access is critical. I'll tell you one thing, if Buffalo decides to build a domed stadium it'll put that city on the map for the next hundred years."
There is also a man who might put Buffalo on the map for 100 years—if one accepts his football achievements at face value. That man is, of course, O.J. Simpson, and Wilson would settle for a mere decade of Simpson-style service.
"He's an extremely high-grade young man, most personable, and I think he'll upgrade our entire organization," Wilson said last week. "We've made no final decision but at this point we plan to draft him. I've had some informal conversations with him and I don't see any serious barriers that will prevent him from playing for the Bills.
"I'll tell you this: if we draft him, we'll play him. I have no intention of trading him for six or seven other players that'll be forgotten in a year. I've been through that quality for quantity business before."
Despite statements in the press that O.J. will not demean himself by laboring for the Bills and will consent to play only in an area of his choice, Wilson is confident that he can be fitted to a blue and white Buffalo uniform. "Listen, every one of the 400 kids drafted by the pros each year wants to play for a specific team, but very few of them get their first choice. O.J. is in the same position, basically, and I think he'll adjust without any problems."
It is possible that the stark prospect of the Bills skipping off to Seattle or somewhere after O.J. was signed might move the politicians to action. Dreams of being pursued by droves of furious steelworkers are enough to strike terror into the heart of the most courageous Erie County legislator and might provide the proper motivation for action on the stagnated stadium issue.
Exponents of a downtown location feel the new stadium would be a major component of a convention complex that would include hotels, restaurants and an exhibition hall. Their opponents argue the high cost of land, potential transportation congestion and harsh lakeside winds, which make a downtown site less favorable than the accessible, wide-open spaces of suburban Amherst. So the legislature sits fondling its $50 million, trying to decide where to spend it.