SBD/October 22, 2013/People and Pop Culture

Titans Owner Bud Adams Remembered As AFL Founder, Controversial Houston Figure

Adams brought pro football to Houston in '60, and to Nashville in '97
Titans Owner BUD ADAMS, who "brought professional football to Houston in 1960 and, three decades later, spirited it away to Tennessee," died yesterday at his home in Houston at the age of 90, according to David Barron of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Adams "lived alone and was found in the office at his River Oaks home." Houston police said that Adams "had not been seen since Saturday." Adams will be remembered as "one of the city’s earliest sports magnates as owner of the Oilers and a member of the so-called 'Foolish Club'" that, along with late Chiefs Founder LAMAR HUNT, "created the upstart American Football League, and as one of the early investors in the Houston Sports Association group that brought the Colt .45s to Houston" in '62. Adams also became "in the minds of many a controversial, divisive figure who battled with city officials and fellow owners from the 1960s through the 1990s and, eventually, took his team and left town." Adams in the '80s threatened to move the Oilers to Jacksonville "unless Harris County officials increased seating in the Astrodome," and in the '90s "campaigned for a city-funded stadium but was opposed" by Houston Mayor BOB LANIER. Nashville Mayor PHIL BREDESON then "crafted a city-supported stadium plan that led to the Oilers’ departure from Houston" after the '96 season (CHRON.com, 10/21). In N.Y., Richard Goldstein noted Hunt "enlisted" Adams to join him in creating the AFL. They announced plans for the league at a news conference in Adams' board room. Adams' death leaves Bills Owner RALPH WILSON "as the last NFL owner whose football roots go back to the AFL’s creation" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/22).

TITANIC FIGURE: NFL.com's Elliot Harrison wrote about Adams under the header, "A Complex Individual Who Significantly Shaped NFL." Harrison wrote Adams led an NFL franchise "for over 50 years, logging more wins (409) than any other current NFL owner at the time of his passing." He also partnered with Hunt "to form the most successful 'other' league in pro football history." Between the AFL's founding and the Titans' Super Bowl appearance in '00, Adams was "a staying power, with a wit to keep league meetings real and a business mind to hasten the NFL's shift to the super stadium game" (NFL.com, 10/21). In Houston, John McClain writes "no matter what you thought" about Adams, there is "no denying his impact on pro football." The history of the NFL "can't be written without Adams" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 10/22). NFL Network's Mark Kriegel said of Adams and his fellow "Foolish Club" members, "They understood that as much as they were into the football business, they were also in the television business. They didn't just change pro football, they didn't just change sports, I don't think it's too much to say that they changed American popular culture" ("NFL AM," NFL Network, 10/22). ESPN's Bill Polian said "without him and Ralph Wilson Jr., there's probably not the NFL that we know today." ESPN's Chris Mortensen said Adams "really did want that Super Bowl, that elusive Super Bowl, but at the same time it doesn't diminish his accomplishments as an owner." Moretensen added, "He was very generous with his time and always a gentleman" ("NFL Insiders," ESPN, 10/21). NFL.com's Gil Brandt wrote Adams was a "league-minded person" who "put the NFL first." He "cared more about the welfare of his team and the league than he did about the bottom line." That is "not to say he threw his money away like some other wealthy guys." He would "spend money, but you had to show him it was worth it" (NFL.com, 10/21).

PROGRESSIVE OWNER: In Nashville, Jim Wyatt notes Adams "provided a platform for diversity in African-American quarterbacks," including WARREN MOON, STEVE MCNAIR and VINCE YOUNG. Moon said, "Mr. Adams wasn't doing it because he was trying to make a statement. He was doing it because he felt like those players were the best players at the time and he didn't care about the color of their skin. We just happened to be African-American." Moon added, "More than anything, Bud was a football guy who wanted to win." Wyatt noted Adams last month was nominated for the Pro Football HOF, and Adams said that he would "like to be considered" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 10/22).

TENNESSEE PRIDE: In Nashville, John Glennon writes Adams' commitment to to the city "would eventually produce the first major league sports team to call Tennessee home, and the Titans have since become a fixture -- selling out 144 consecutive games in Nashville, going to the playoffs six times and making one memorable run to the Super Bowl." Adams' decision to move the team "produced other benefits for Nashville as well, including his many charitable contributions to the city." Adams was "generous with his money," with the Titans "estimating -- prior to the 2012 season -- that since the team moved to Tennessee, local charities had seen 'approximately $20 million flow into their organizations as a direct result of the Titans and the NFL'" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 10/22). ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky wrote Nashville is "booming," and there are "a lot of reasons." Adams is "probably the biggest" (ESPN.com, 10/21). Titans coach MIKE MUNCHAK said, "People think he wasn’t here, so maybe he wasn’t an active owner being here all the time. But he was. ... He was here all the time, you could see him, you could feel him, it’s just his body, he wasn’t here. I think he’ll always be here" (ESPN.com, 10/21). However, in Memphis, David Williams writes Adams "will be best remembered locally for his NFL team’s ill-fated temporary stay at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in 1997 while awaiting its new stadium in Nashville." The stay was "perhaps doomed to fail." The team "raised ticket prices ... did little to market the team in Memphis and had scant presence here beyond game days." Memphis residents "stayed away from the games in droves." The only crowd "to top 40,000 was the season finale" (COMMERCIALAPPEAL.com, 10/21).

WALKING TO HIS OWN BEAT
: SPORTS ON EARTH's Dan Pompei writes Adams "set his own course with little regard for convention." He "could be a handful for his administrators," he could "fly off the handle and react harshly, and his patience thinned as he aged." Adams at various points of his career was "portrayed as a micromanager and skinflint." He "slugged a sportswriter and flipped off some fans." But he was "earthy and real." Pompei: "For better or worse, he always seemed to know what he wanted, and he wasn't shy about seizing control of his destiny" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 10/22). To read about what lies ahead for the Titans' ownership situation, see "Titans' Future In Nashville Appears Stable, With Bud Adams' Grandson Likely To Take Reins."

BUM STEER? USA TODAY's Jim Wyatt writes Adams was a "trendsetter with a lifelong love of sports and a fondness for Houston." Adams "kept his office and residence in Houston until his death." He "sometimes created controversy when the Oilers were still in Houston, in part because of his willingness to part ways with successful coaches who fell short of his Super Bowl goal," including former Oilers coach & GM BUM PHILLIPS, who died on Friday (USA TODAY, 10/22). SPORTING NEWS' David Steele noted Adams and Phillips are "the two biggest names in the history of pro football in Houston." Phillips' death "brought heartbreak," while Adams' death "brings mostly heartache." Adams' firing of Phillips "will never be forgiven" in Houston (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 10/21).
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