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Doug Marrone mourns Ralph Wilson: 'Who's going to pick up that torch?'

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Every Monday like clockwork, Doug Marrone got on the phone with Ralph Wilson and talked football.

As the Buffalo Bills' head coach for only one season so far, Marrone didn't get to know Wilson like many other at One Bills Drive.

But prolonged exposure to Wilson's passion for the Bills and for football wasn't required for Marrone to develop a deep appreciation for him. Wilson, an American Football League founder and Pro Football Hall of Famer, died Tuesday at 95.

"He had a great perspective," Marrone said this morning as the NFL owners meetings concluded at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes. "I really learned a lot from him in a short period of time.

"I have so much respect for him as an American, as someone who served in World War II. And what he did as a pioneer for this league ... You sit back and say, 'Who's going to pick up that torch? Who's going to continue that legacy?' "

Within the past eight years the NFL has lost Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams, Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford and Wilson.

"It's sad," Marrone said. "It's a time that we're grieving, but it's also a time to reflect and acknowledge the greatness in all of those men.

"I struggle. I really do."

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Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining NFL.com as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.