By Tim Graham
CANTON, Ohio -- There had been some concern whether health issues would prevent Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson from attending this morning's ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $2.5 million research facility he funded for Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Wilson was in attendance, and while he struggled with mobility, he delivered a speech to a gathering comprised of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Hall of Famers and fans in front of the Ralph Wilson Jr. Pro Football Research and Preservation Center.
Wilson, in his gold Hall of Fame jacket, sat in a wheelchair for most of the ceremony. He was accompanied by his wife, Mary, niece and Bills executive vice president Mary Owen and Bills CFO Jeffrey Littmann.
The 93-year-old Bills founder needed considerable assistance from spotters to stand for the national anthem and to speak at the lectern. He sometimes labored through his prepared statement, but he diverted from the script for a couple jokes. After being positioned at the lectern, Wilson said it reminded him of navigating minefields in World War II.
Wilson also got emotional toward the end of his seven-minute speech. Here it is in it's entirety:
"It's been great to see all you fellows today. I want you to know that I've seen all of you play the game of pro football either on TV or at the game itself. Thank you for so many of you coming up and saying hello.
"This is not going to be a long speech. So all of you can breathe a sigh of relief. I'm happy to be here today as part of the renovation of the research center and also this expansion, which Steve Perry said is important to the game and all of you that have made the game to be able to come back and say 'I helped build this building,' and I hope you all will look around and see what's happened. In the 50 years I have been involved in pro football, I have seen incredible growth. Little did we suspect the day would come when our game would become known as the national pastime and the Hall of Fame facility would blossom into this impressive setting we now see in Canton. So, indeed, it is [an honor] for me to dedicate still another expansion of the Hall.
"I said I didn't like to read speeches. I was just kidding.
"The Pro Football Hall of Fame's historic documents as have been mentioned will be housed here, and scholars from all over the world will have a chance to see them and go over them. If they're great scholars -- as I'm sure they must be -- I would like an answer to how the Buffalo Bills have gone to four straight Super Bowls without winning one.
"So whatever team you root for, welcome to the expanded ... I must say partially expanded because there probably will be more expansion in the years to come. And congratulations to the 2012 inductees, and I thank them all for coming today. I really appreciate it.
"Once again, it's been great to see you. For all of you that have come over and said hello, that will always be with me. Never be forgotten. Whatever team you root for, I wish them luck and hope that they have as great a time in the game -- win or lose -- as I have. Thank you fellows, all of you, so very, very much."
Wilson received a standing ovation.
Goodell, Hall of Famers Warren Moon and Willie Lanier and local civic leaders then helped Wilson cut the red ribbon.
Wilson did not meet with reporters after the ceremony.
(Photo: Courtesy Pro Football Hall of Fame)