Old lions Wilson, Adams trying to beat clock with game-changing action

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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Ralph Wilson spoke at Bruce Smith's Hall of Fame induction in September 2008. (Getty Images)  
Ralph Wilson spoke at Bruce Smith's Hall of Fame induction in September 2008. (Getty Images)  

Ralph Wilson is the oldest owner in the NFL. He's 93. His Bills just signed Mario Williams to $50 million in guaranteed money. The old man's still got it.

Bud Adams is 89 years old. He just flew in Peyton Manning on a private jet, wined and dined him, and offered maybe the biggest free agent ever a lifetime contract. The old man's still got it.

Or, maybe the best way to say it is this: The old men still want it. It's no coincidence Wilson and Adams, two of the building blocks of the AFL, two men used to always being in the thick of the NFL, are making their last ditch runs. These are two men who despise losing, but have done a great deal of it in recent seasons. The Bills, a team that once regularly made Super Bowl runs, have not made the playoffs since 1999.

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One of the low points came in 2010. Wilson was scheduled to receive his Hall of Fame ring during a halftime ceremony. But before that, the Bills were awful against one of the worst teams in football at the time, the Cleveland Browns. Buffalo lost 6-3 thanks in part to nine false start penalties. Nine.

Wilson canceled his halftime appearance. The media and fans presumed the reason was because Wilson feared being booed by fans. Wilson was right. It would have been humiliating. Those are the types of memories that spur 90-something owners to make moves like getting Williams.

The Titans have been better, but they at times have also resembled a clown car. Adams had become sick of the nonsense. Like Wilson, he wants change. Now.

Wilson and Adams are the two of only three men who have owned a pro football team continuously for 50 years (George Halas was the other). Yet despite their ages, Wilson and Adams aren't ready to go quietly into the night. The actions of the Titans and Bills franchises reflect the opposite. There's almost a daringness, if not desperation, to their actions.

"Since [Manning] went to school in Tennessee, I think Tennessee is where he should be," Adams told the Tennessean on Sunday. "I think he could play for two or three years. I think he's the guy that could come in and turn this around for us. I want him to be with me the rest of his working period of his life, even when he doesn't want to play anymore."

Adams instructed his front office and coaching staff to get Manning at all costs, and because of that directive, the Titans have a damn good shot to get him. Wilson's Bills just snagged the 21st century free agent equivalent of Reggie White in Williams.

Wilson is still heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the Bills franchise -- obviously not as much as he once was, but still very much a factor. It's impossible to say if Wilson put out the kind of directive that Adams did, but it's not impossible to think he did. The Bills went far and above what other franchises would have. No team was willing to give Williams $50 million in guaranteed cash -- just as it's likely no other team is willing to give Manning a "contract for life" the way Adams is.

These are both highly risky moves. Manning has yet to work out for any team, and no one can say if that four-time surgically repaired neck will hold up. Giving a defensive lineman, no matter how talented, $50 million in guaranteed cash is also questionable.

But two of the greatest owners in the history of sports -- especially Wilson -- don't seem to care. They seem to be something beyond hungry, very possibly even angry, at the state of their teams. What we know for certain is the two old owners aren't done.

Not yet.

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