Exiting Sabres owner willing to buy Bills

I listened to a hockey news conference and a football blog broke out.

Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano formally announced Thursday afternoon he was selling his team to Terry Pegula. As a former Sabres beat reporter for the Buffalo News, I listened with interest as the owner I used to cover bid farewell.

But I'll admit as the self-congratulatory sentiments dragged on, I zoned out and commenced writing about football.

Golisano's news conference faded into background noise until, about a half-hour in, AFC East Blog Fan Club president Jill Pitzonka grabbed my attention. She popped up in my chat window: "Didn't Golly just hint that he wants to buy the Bills?"

Wait. What?

The future of the Buffalo Bills long has been an emotional topic in Western New York. Ralph Wilson, their Hall of Fame owner, is 92 years old. Little information has been divulged about what will transpire when the inevitable occurs.

There's great fear the team will be sold and move away. They're trying to build a stadium in Los Angeles, you know. Wilson's decision to sell games to a Toronto promoter haven't calmed the masses.

But Golisano is a potential savior. Forbes estimated the Rochester, N.Y., native is worth $1.2 billion. He has the resources to put together a group to buy the Bills and keep them in Buffalo, just as he did when he pulled the Sabres out of bankruptcy in March 2003.

"Would I be interested in the Bills?" Golisano repeated when asked. "I think the key issue would be the level of concern I would have about them leaving the community, and the higher the concern, the more interest I probably would have.

"If there were people in here in the community who had the wherewithal and the desire to take over the team and didn't need what I had to offer, I'd say that would be great. I would be happy. But the level of interest will vary greatly, depending on the level of concern."

Golisano claimed at the news conference that he could have sold the Sabres for another $70 million to a prospective owner who wanted to move the Sabres. But he took less from Pegula, who will keep the Sabres in Buffalo.

The problem with any kind of Bills conjecture, Golisano stressed, is the Bills have not been for sale.

"The Buffalo Bills just like the Buffalo Sabres are a very important asset to this community," Golisano said. "But the thing that always comes to light is nobody has ever said that they're for sale or going to be for sale.

"Ralph Wilson is a very smart guy, and if he thinks he has an estate tax problem or is going to have an estate tax problem, I would have to assume he's already done something about it. Now, I know he plays his cards very close to the vest, but I don't ever know if the Buffalo Bills are going to be for sale."

Still, Golisano raised hopes among Bills fans by uttering nary a word that suggested he doesn't want to become an NFL owner.

"I would say it's within the realm of possibility that something else might happen" in sports, Golisano said.