NASHVILLE – When Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams first made plans to move his NFL franchise to Nashville, there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding how things might work out.
Among the curious was his daughter, Amy, who had never been to Tennessee.
"I knew it was a pretty city, and I knew that my dad would be drawn to a southern city, that's just how he thought," she said. "When we did come to visit – before the team ever moved here -- we came on the 4th of July and we saw the fireworks and did a few other things around town. I knew then this would be a great place."
Fast-forward a few decades plus and now it's Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk who has taken her late father's vision and done her part to make it even grander. Today, the Titans are a team on the rise, with three straight winning seasons for the first time since the move.
And the city is in the NFL spotlight after hosting the most successful NFL Draft in league history.
Over the weekend, Strunk was recognized as the 2019 Tennessean of the Year by the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, and she has plenty of folks singing her praises for her work in jump-starting a franchise that just five years ago had the worst record in the NFL.
"A lot of times, when you own a franchise, you often get taken for granted," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said of Strunk. "People think: 'You've got money, and you can do this and you can do that.' But what she has done in her time at the head of the Titans organization, pulling everything together, has been impressive, and that is because of her leadership and it is because of her guidance and because of her demanding accountability.
"I think this state is very fortunate to have her leading the Tennessee Titans."
In April, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell credited Strunk for her role in bringing the 2019 NFL Draft to the city. It came on the same day Strunk donated $100,000 to a pair of Nashville non-profits charged with fighting hunger in the community.
This year's draft easily shattered records for attendance, as over 600,000 fans fill the streets of Nashville for the three-day event. This year's NFL Draft generated a record $133 million in direct spending -- a 79 percent increase over the $74 million at the 2018 Dallas event. The economic impact was another record-breaker at $224 million, also a 79 percent increase over the $125 million in 2018.
"I've gotten to know Amy," former University of Tennessee and long-time NFL quarterback Peyton Manning said of Strunk. "She has carried on her father's legacy and done some things unique with her leadership style and has the Titans in a great place.
"Bringing the draft here tells you everything you need to know about how serious the NFL is about the Titans and their fan support here. … Amy deserves a lot of credit."
Last week, when Strunk announced plans to retire the jersey numbers of Titans greats Eddie George and Steve McNair, George also praised the Titans owner, who took over as the team's controlling owner in 2015. Back then, Ken Whisenhunt was the team's head coach, and Ruston Webster was the general manager.
George said Strunk has taken the team's ownership to another level on the field, and off.
"She's an amazing woman, and she's doing it the right way," George said. "Bud had his ways, and he did it the way he wanted to do it and he was very successful. But what she is doing and how she is investing into the players and creating a culture here, and giving back to the community of Nashville, becoming a strong pillar in Nashville.
"Bringing in former players with open arms -- you don't get that nowadays. Most owners and most organizations and most programs around the country, including college, are really standoffish. But to constantly pull us back in and ask our opinions on certain issues or to soak up knowledge. … She is a gracious woman, a very successful businesswoman."
Before thanking Tennesseans – from organizers to volunteers to fans – for doing their part to make the 2019 NFL Draft a success while accepting the TSHOF Tennessean of the Year award, Strunk smiled when asked about how much has changed over the years.
Strunk has not only made some big decisions on the football side – HC Mike Vrabel and GM Jon Robinson replaced former coaches and GMs – but she's also changed the look inside the building at Saint Thomas Sports Park and at Nissan Stadium, with upgrades and additions. She even changed the team's uniforms.
Along the way, she's also restored the passion and the confidence in the team's fan base.
"It just feels great," she said. "I know when I took over four years ago, some people were probably like: Who is she? What is she going to bring to our team? Is she capable? I just decided I was going to put my head down and go to work and hopefully get things straightened out and all that would take care of itself."
Needless to say, those questions have since been answered.
And the appreciation is on full display as Strunk is regularly swarmed by fans when she makes her way onto the field prior to games, or at team functions.
Strunk admits, however, she still navigates through the aisles at supermarkets in town, where she owns multiple homes, undetected on most days.
"Very few people recognize me," she said with a smile. "I bet I've had two people ever in the grocery story recognize me, so I am still kind of incognito.
"I think if there's anything to do with the football, I'm recognized right away. But when I'm just grabbing oranges, limes and lemons, I'm just there as a shopper, too."
In the future, Strunk would like to bring something else to the city.
She'd love to see the Titans on center stage.
"Who would have ever thought 20 years ago this is what (Nashville) would look like?," Strunk, thinking back to the success of the NFL Draft, said. "But I am so proud of it, and so happy to see the city of Nashville in the spotlight.
"This success will lead to bigger moments in the future," she said while behind a podium over the weekend, "moments that hopefully include a Lombardi Trophy, and a championship parade sometime real soon."
Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk was honored as the 2019 Tennessean of the Year at the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame banquet Saturday night. (Photos: Donald Page)
Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk visits with Titans fans, takes in excitement of NFL Draft in Nashville. (Photos: Donn Jones)
In partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank and The Bridge Ministry, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk and Nashville Mayor David Briley joined NFL Draft prospects, local students and 500 volunteers to assemble 8,000 food kits for children in need. (Photos: Donn Jones, Gary Glenn)
Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk hosted an event for Titans season ticket members, then checked out the NFL Draft setup in downtown Nashville. (Photos: Gary Glenn)