ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The NFL-record bid Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula have made to buy the Bills is already paying off. Their offer of $1.4 billion has quickly resulted in an outpouring of support generated in their adopted home.
The Bills aren't going anywhere thanks to the deep-pocketed Pegulas who reached a "definitive agreement" on Tuesday with late owner Ralph Wilson's estate to buy the team.
The sale is subject to approval by a three-quarters majority of the NFL's other 31 owners, which is expected to come at league meetings on Oct. 8.
The news generated expressions of relief, joy and thanks from Bills fans everywhere.
"It's Christmas morning," said season-ticket holder and noted Bills tailgater Scott Hunsinger. "It really takes a burden off of die-hard fans that we know now that we're not going to lose our team."
One fan was so emotional that he began crying while discussing on WGR Radio what the purchase by the Pegulas meant to him.
Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas could relate. He barely got through a round of golf at Bethpage when he was approached by a Bills supporter seeking a favor.
"He said, 'I'm a Bills fan, and whenever you talk to the Pegulas or see them, just tell them thank you,'" Thomas said. "It was almost as if he wanted to cry. I can understand his emotions. It's Buffalo. You can see how passionate Bills fans are, and how happy they are that the Bills will remain in Buffalo for a long time."
The Pegulas have helped assure that by taking a highly aggressive approach in submitting an eye-popping bid that was confirmed to The Associated Press by a person with direct knowledge of the sale process. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the sale was conducted privately.
The price eclipses the previous NFL-high of $1.1 billion set in 2009 when Stephen Ross completed his purchase of the Miami Dolphins in a deal that also included the team's stadium.
The person said the Pegulas went well above the Bills' estimated value of $935 million to show Wilson's estate how serious they were in their desire to buy the team. They also wanted to submit a bid the Pegulas believed would be significantly higher than other prospective ownership groups were willing — or capable — of matching.
That included a Toronto-based group led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi, which had raised concerns regarding the possibility relocation of the Bills north of the border. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump also submitted a formal bid on Monday.
The value of the Toronto group's and Trump's bids weren't revealed.
The Pegulas, who have a net worth of more than $3.5 billion, made their fortune in the natural gas industry. They had the backing of local business leaders and public officials, and were regarded as the front runner to buy the Bills once they first expressed interest in late May.
The Pegulas were motivated to keep the Bills in Buffalo and preserve Wilson's legacy.
"It is gratifying to reassure these great fans that the two franchises, so important to our region are here to stay," Terry Pegula said in a statement released by the Sabres. "Ralph Wilson left an indelible mark on our community and we will strive every day to honor his legacy."
Wilson, who died in March, was the team's founder and sole owner. He often spoke out and voted against franchise relocation.
"Ralph would have been pleased with the sale of the team to the Terry Pegula family, who have been so committed to Buffalo and the western New York region," Wilson's widow and Bills controlling owner Mary Wilson said. "He loved his team and he cherished the fans, and his legacy will remain for all time."
The agreement came days before the Bills (1-0) are to play their home opener against Miami on Sunday.
The Bills are also holding an invitation-only tribute to their former owner at a downtown Buffalo theater on Friday night. Former players are gathering in Niagara Falls, New York, for a reunion the following day.
The Pegulas, who live in Florida, have established roots in Buffalo since purchasing the Sabres in February 2011. Terry Pegula is from Pennsylvania and became a fan of the Sabres in the mid-1970s. Kim is from the nearby Rochester area.
Their commitment to Buffalo is becoming more evident with the construction of a privately funded $172 million downtown hockey-entertainment complex called HarborCenter that is nearing completion.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL