Now he owns the Tennessee Titans, the franchise with the NFL's best record in 2008 and that had Adams so confident of another Super Bowl trip that he offered tickets to that game enticing luxury suite buyers to renew their leases.
"The years go by so fast you can't keep up with them," Adams said Friday in a rare public reflection.
Adams was on hand Friday as his beloved Titans opened training camp with their first practice, and he shared memories of his 50 years in professional football in a conference call before practice.
He celebrates the 50th anniversary of announcing his team's entry into the old AFL on Monday. His team will be wearing throwback jerseys commemorating his two AFL championships starting Aug. 9 when the Titans kick off the preseason against Buffalo, another AFL member, in the Hall of Fame game.
He also will be on hand when his old friend Ralph Wilson, owner of the Bills, is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Adams has been a semifinalist himself the past two years.
Adams was the one who helped the AFL get started by signing LSU star Bill Cannon away from the NFL's Los Angeles Rams.
"They didn't want us to sign anymore of their players," Adams recalled.
He picked the rights to draft Joe Namath but quickly decided to trade the Alabama quarterback to the New York Jets, a move that paid off when Namath led the AFL to its first Super Bowl victory over the NFL in January 1969. The price for AFL teams to merge with the NFL? Cheap in today's market where franchises are valued in the hundreds of millions.
"It was $2 million per team," Adams said. "I about fell over dead when I heard that."
Adams continued to be a pioneer in the NFL.
He had George Blanda play for his Houston Oilers, took his team indoors at the Astrodome and made history by being the first owner to have three black quarterbacks as his franchise player -- first winning a bidding war to sign Warren Moon in the 1980s, drafting Steve McNair in 1995 and Vince Young in 2006.
Adams also wasn't afraid to relocate his franchise to Tennessee after repeated bids to build a new stadium in Houston failed. The team moved in 1997, and the renamed Titans just sold out every game for the upcoming season. That means 114 straight games have been sold out, every one since the team moved into its stadium in 1999.
"It's been a tight year all around for people with ticket sales, and we luckily ... in Nashville we have great fans there, and they've done very well. We've sold the stadium out of everything for 10 consecutive years and in fact we're sold out right now with everything," Adams said.
With the economy tanking late last year, Adams said that's when he offered up a pair of Super Bowl tickets to those who renewed luxury suite leases with 90 up for renewal then. His Titans wound up earning the home-field advantage throughout the postseason only to lose 13-10 to Baltimore in the divisional round.
That meant Adams had to pay up for those tickets for 62 renewals.
"We weren't there for them to root for us," he said.
Adams knows the economic success he's had in Nashville is not the case elsewhere. He noted how cities like Buffalo that used to feature so many plants that now are closed up. He called 2009 a rough go for the NFL.
"It's the worst thing that's happened since I've been in football," Adams said.