50 Years of Football Prove Adams is a Dealmaker




NASHVILLE, Tenn. -** K.S. "Bud'' Adams Jr. is a businessman who knows how to make a deal - even if it's risky or unpopular.

The mere mention of his name in Houston still riles people who feel he stole their beloved Oilers by relocating the team to Tennessee back in 1997. In Tennessee, he's the man who brought his NFL franchise to the state - and only agreed to rename it so he could woo fans in his new market.

Adams is the guy who struck an early blow for the upstart AFL against the established NFL, luring Billy Cannon away from the NFL in 1960 by doubling the money the Rams offered, and cinching the deal by letting the running back drive away in his wife's Cadillac.

Respected around the NFL today, Adams' contributions to professional football are getting more attention these days. He was a co-founder of the American Football League with the late Lamar Hunt - an event whose 50th anniversary is being celebrated by the NFL this year - and the only owner of the Oilers-Titans franchise.

Al Davis, Oakland owner and former AFL commissioner, called Adams a prime fighter for their clubs. "They were scared to death of Bud, the other league, because he beat them on Billy Cannon,'' he said.

Now 86, mixing sports and deals is something Adams was born to do.

The son of an Oklahoma oilman, he played football, basketball and baseball at Culver Military Academy and rugby and football in college. He finished as a letterman at the University of Kansas, served in the Navy during World War II and found himself grounded by fog in 1946 in Houston, where he decided to set up business.

Adams quickly expanded from oil to natural gas, transporting chemicals, car dealerships and farming and ranching in California and Texas. He also was involved with pro baseball and boxing, and sponsored amateur and AAU teams in basketball and softball. His ADA Oilers finished third in the 1956 national AAU basketball tournament.

He couldn't stay away from football. He wanted an NFL expansion franchise, then tried to buy the Chicago Cardinals and move them to Houston, only to be rejected.

That prompted Lamar Hunt to get his brother, Bunker, to set up a meeting for him with Adams in Houston. Football didn't come up until Adams was driving Hunt back to the airport for his flight to Dallas. Both men had tried to buy the Cardinals, and Hunt asked if Adams would be interested in forming a new league.

"I said, 'I sure would.' He got out and said, 'I'll be back in touch,''' Adams recalled last week.

On Aug. 3, 1959, Adams and Hunt announced in a news conference in Adams' office the formation of the AFL. Hunt would own the Dallas Texans, Adams the Houston franchise. Adams said the calls poured in from others eager to challenge the NFL.

"That's when we finally got to what they became, the Foolish Club,'' Adams said of the first eight AFL owners.

Adams fired the first big shot at the NFL by landing Cannon, the two-time All-American running back at LSU.

The Los Angeles Rams already had drafted Cannon. Adams called Cannon's trainer at LSU offering to pay twice as much. Cannon called Adams collect, and they worked out a three-year deal, with a plan for Cannon to sign the contract after the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1960.

Cannon also wanted a Cadillac for his father. So Adams brought Cannon back to his Houston home for a meal - and then gave the running back the keys to his wife's car.

"She wasn't too happy about that. We went out to celebrate Billy Cannon because we were getting the best player in the nation right there,'' said Adams, who replaced his wife's car with a blue Cadillac convertible.

Bud Adams named his football team the Oilers. With Cannon and quarterback George Blanda, they won the first two AFL titles and played in two more championship games that first decade. He kept fighting the NFL and signed end Willard Dewveall away from the Bears in 1961.

He also made history in 1969 by making the Astrodome home to his Oilers - the first AFL or NFL team to play indoors.

"I could see where the NFL was pretty well set in their ways and that's the way they wanted it and they didn't want to change it. They had no reason to change it,'' Adams said. "I think we forced some changes on them pretty quick to the things we were doing with our teams.''

Peace between the leagues finally came when the AFL-NFL merger was announced June 8, 1966.

Adams always has been an involved owner, consulting daily on decisions and sometimes suffering the consequences.

One heavily criticized move came when he fired coach Bum Phillips for following up two AFC championship game losses in 1978 and 1979 with an 11-5 season and a quick playoff exit.

Upset at being the second tenant in the Astrodome to baseball's Astros, Adams ticked off fans again by flirting with Jacksonville in 1987 and touring the Gator Bowl. That got him luxury boxes and new turf for the dome with new taxes to pay the bill.

It wasn't enough in the NFL's smallest stadium, so Adams looked to Nashville in 1995. Attendance bottomed out in Houston, forcing him to pack up his Oilers and hit the road in 1997 before his new, stadium was ready.

"He made every effort he possibly could to stay, but he just didn't get any cooperation,'' said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, Adams' winningest coach, now going into his 15th full season. "He wanted to stay there because that's where he started things. I'm sure it was very, very tough on him.''

Adams tried to cling to his beloved Oilers' nickname before finally agreeing in 1998 to a change demanded by fans helping pay for the stadium. Part of that deal? The NFL officially retired the Oilers nickname after that '98 season, another first in league history.

On the field, Adams' teams win - though never in the Super Bowl. His franchise has 21 playoff appearances in 49 seasons - fifth among NFL teams since 1960 counting the AFL years.

Adams' franchise has produced 65 Pro Bowl selections, one AFL and two NFL MVPs and eight Hall of Fame inductees including Blanda, Earl Campbell and Warren Moon.

Another AFL original owner, Ralph Wilson, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend and Davis thinks that Adams should be there, too.

"I don't think (people) really know what happened in the merger,'' he said, "who were the fighters, who weren't, who did what.''

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