Patrick McGroder sends us to a different part of the Wall of Fame than former players like QB Jack Kemp and WR Elbert Dubenion, though he comes from that same era of ‘ancient’ Buffalo Bills history. Inducted in 1985, Patrick was just as responsible for the Bills we know and love today as our team’s founder, Ralph Wilson. Working for the Bills in a variety of executive capacities, he played a pivotal role in bringing professional football (back) to Western New York.
A Brush With Bisons
In 1946, the second professional football stint in the city of Buffalo reared its head. The Buffalo Bisons were founded by James Breuil at a massive personal cost. (The team changed its name to the Bills after a single season via a ‘Name-The-Team’ contest.) This Bills team was one of eight in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC); a league that would infringe on the NFL’s margins quickly. Enough so that a merger occurred after only four seasons.
Per the agreement, the NFL admitted three AAFC teams to their league. Unfortunately, Buffalo did not make the cut. (The Browns, Colts, and 49ers did.) This move faced significant backlash and, as a result, the NFL owners had a vote to determine whether or not they should admit Buffalo as an uneven 13th team. Despite voting 9-4 in favor, the motion failed. (A unanimous vote was required.) Mr. Breuil did not want to take a $700,000 loss, so he sought out potential new owners willing to take on the now-league less Buffalo franchise. Enter Patrick McGroder.
Patrick J. McGroder was a long-time Buffalonian and businessman, with significant love for his city and its people. His liquor store was highly successful, but his money and love of the game were overshadowed by his lack of qualifications. Therefore, he elected to wait for the next opportunity in Buffalo football to come his way. The AAFC collapsed, and Breuil begrudgingly accepted 1/4 of the Cleveland Browns franchise in exchange for his loss.
McGroder fought with the NFL at every avenue, sending countless letters and filing every possible grievance with the league in order to give his city a fighting chance at getting a professional franchise. His day would come as his tenacity forced AFL founder Lamar Hunt to recognize his role and offer him the opportunity to own the franchise. However, Pat would decline out of the belief that the AFL’s presence would force the NFL to Buffalo on its own. Ultimately he was wrong and Ralph Wilson took the opportunity for ownership in his stride.
Wilson and McGroder became fast friends, and Ralph insisted on giving his friend a role inside of his organization. For the amount of “$1 per year”, McGroder took on an official front office position and got to work helping the Bills and AFL succeed in any capacity he could. This included securing an agreement for Buffalo to play at War Memorial Stadium. Eventually, after more work than he could ever have imagined, McGroder got his dream. The 1970 AFL-NFL merger brought Buffalo into the NFL for good.
The Rest Is History
Pat McGroder dreamed about it for almost 30 years at that point. It was a long journey, but he was consistent and unrelenting in the drive for an NFL team to unite his city of Buffalo. Yet his involvement did not end when that dream materialized. His work in player acquisition, contract management, and general business dealings mean you’ll see his signature printed all over the old Buffalo Bills archives. Always spoken of with incredible fondness and respect, he continued to make his dream a success through his indomitable drive and work ethic.
“No Buffalo player ever had a better friend than Pat McGroder… [he was] a father figure… a giant man who can never be replaced.”– O.J. Simpson on McGroder after his death, per UPI archives
Pat passed away in 1986 from a brief illness, a few months after his Wall of Fame induction. He was remembered by his best friend and colleague Ralph Wilson.
“Patrick McGroder and the Buffalo Bills will forever be synonymous. He was my closest and dearest friend.”– Ralph wilson, 1986 team statement