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Bud Adams

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K. S. "Bud" Adams, Jr. (born 1923) is a Houston, Texas businessman who owns Tennessee Titans franchise in the National Football League. He was a charter owner in the former American Football League with the Titans' predecessor franchise, the Houston Oilers.

Mr. Adams has many business interests in the Houston area. He originally made his fortune in the petroleum business. His other business interests are of considerably less interest to the general reading public than those regarding professional football, and his football interests will be the focus of this article.

Contents


Early Life

K.S. Adams, Jr. served in the United States Armed Forces during World War II in the Pacific Theater of operations. Upon his return to the U.S., he, like many of his fellow Texans, went to work in the petroleum industry and was a successful "wildcatter". He made a considerable fortune, and became interested in the prospects of owning a professional football team. In the mid-1950s there was not a major professional football team in operation in Texas, despite a level of interest in the sport probably unexceeded in any other state, and equalled in only a few.

Early Career in the American Football League

Bud Adams was one of the charter team owners in the former American Football League, which was announced in 1959 and played its first games in 1960. He had previously talked with several figures in the National Football League, including George Halas of the Chicago Bears and commissioner Bert Bell, about getting an NFL expansion franchise, but met with frustration and decided to go another direction. He is probably less associated with the formation of the AFL in the mind of the general public than fellow Texan and AFL team owner Lamar Hunt, but was probably almost as crucial to the league's remaining a viable business venture in its early years, as he and Hunt were more financially stable than some of the other early owners. Particularly crucial to the league's early years was Adams' relationship with Harry Wismer, original owner of the New York Titans franchise (now the New York Jets). The New York Titans played in the rotting remains of the old Polo Grounds and were largely either derided or ignored by the New York media, and Adams' help was essential in keeping Wismer's team in business until it could be sold to more financially capable ownership and moved into Shea Stadium. Without a New York franchise, U.S. television networks have limited interest in a team sports league, as it is by far the largest media market in the U.S..

Adams' team was the best of the beginning period of the AFL, winning the first two championship games behind the quarterbacking and kicking of former Bears reject George Blanda, and losing the third in sudden death overtime in what was until that point the longest game of American football ever played. This success was not to be duplicated by the team during the rest of its time in Texas.

The Houston Oilers and the Astrodome

Adams and the other AFL owners received a tremendous boost in credibility and net worth when the merger of the AFL with and into the NFL was announced in 1966, effective with the 1970 season. In 1968 Adams moved his team into the Houston Astrodome, which had been, since 1965, the home of Major League Baseball's Houston Astros. While this took the hot, humid Houston weather during the early part of the season away as a consideration and made Adams' team the first pro football team ever to play its home games in a domed stadium, the Astrodome had several downsides as a venue for the Oilers. Its round shape made for poor sight lines for football. Also, it meant that the seats that should have been the most desirable (and expensive), those near the fifty-yard line, were in fact the farthest from the field of play, while those nearest the action were otherwise-undesirable seats in the end zone. Additionally, it seated only about 50,000 for football and was by the early 1980s the smallest venue in the NFL with regards to seating capacity. Also, Adams chafed at being the Astrodome's "secondary" tenant, but this was unlikely to change as long as the Astros were playing eighty-one home games there and his team was playing eight, and he knew this.

Houston vs. Adams

In the mid-1980s Adams began to shop the team to other cities. His sincerity about actually moving the team at this juncture has been called into question. However, he did get several improvements made to the Astrodome largely as a result of this threat. The main scoreboard was moved to a better location for football, more football seating was added, and an attempt to improve sight lines for football was made. Adams was temporarily placated, but had done considerable damage to his popularity and credibility in Houston with his apparent willingness to move the team. He was already somewhat less than popular due to his seeming mishandling of the team. In the late 1970s the Oilers had again risen to football prominence. Had this era not coincided with one of the NFL's all-time great teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the same time period, which at the time competed in the same AFC division, the Oilers almost undoubtedly would have won, or at least played in, a Super Bowl. As it was, they were nonetheless extremely popular, especially their coach, Adams' fellow Texan O. A. "Bum" Phillips, who dressed, spoke, and acted much like the popular image of a rancher, which he in fact was. The Astrodome became known as one of the loudest venues in the NFL and one of the hardest for a visiting team to win at, nicknamed the "House of Pain". But Adams always had a tendency to mircromanage the Oilers, more than most owners, especially those who did not have a background as former coaches or players. He was rumored, in fact, to require that all team expenditures of $200 or over be personally approved by him. When the Oilers failed to win any championships he fired Phillips, and the team soon afterwards became a laughingstock, most of the Houston sporting public blamed Adams. This era of rotation between mediocrity and disaster was to last several years, but by 1987, the ship seemed to have been righted again, at least on the field, and the Oilers were to make the AFC playoffs every year from then until 1993, each time losing short of appearing in the Super Bowl.

By the mid-1990s, several NFL teams had new stadiums built largely or entirely with public funding, and several more such deals had been agreed to. These new venues featured amenities such as "club seating" and other potential revenue streams which were not part of the NFL's revenue-sharing arrangements. Adams began to lobby then-Houston mayor Bob Lanier for a new stadium for his team. Lanier disliked Adams intensely, and told him that what had been done for him a decade earlier, which had been financed with bonds to be paid off over thirty years, was enough. With this, Adams again began to shop the team to other cities. He had taken particular notice in the offer that had been made by Nashville, Tennessee to the ownership of the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League to become the primary tenant of a new arena then under construction in downtown Nashville (and now called the Gaylord Entertainment Center). While this deal was never to be consummated (Nasvhille eventually received the NHL expansion franchise now called the Nashville Predators), Adams wondered what sort of offer might be made to him regarding a venue for his NFL team. After meeting with then-Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen on several occasions, a deal was announced which would bring the Oilers to Nashville effective in the 1997 season to a new stadium to be built across the Cumberland River from downtown Nashville, largely with city and state funds. Nashville opponents of this arrangement forced the issue to a referendum vote, which passed easily, with over 57% of those voting in favor of it.

Adams' opponents in Houston were not idle during this time. Houston Representative Tom DeLay even introduced a bill in Congress banning the move, which eventually did not pass. Lawsuits were filed as well, but all were dismissed in a way favorable to Adams. His immediate problem became having a suitable place to play prior to the completion of the new stadium in Nashville. The 1996 "lame duck" season in the Astrodome was a disaster, with crowds so sparse at times that the few in attendance (and watching on television or listening on radio) could hear all of the action on the field, including play calling, collisions, and the players talking to one another, even the occasional profanity. In addition, the Oilers' radio network, formerly statewide, was reduced to a single station in Houston and a few new affiliates in Tennessee. All of this was unacceptable to both Adams and the league, and it was announced that the next two seasons would be played at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis while the new Nashville stadium was being completed (the opening of it having been forced back a year by the time necessary to get the appropriate enabling measure on the ballot in Nashville).

The Tennesee Oilers

The 1997 season in Memphis proved to be almost as disastrous as the prior year's in the Astrodome had been. Whether Memphians were so disappointed at their own city's numerous failures to get professional football in its own right, or their longtime rivaly with and disdain for Nashville was the primary culprit, the Oilers faced crowds almost as small, and almost as indifferent-to-hostile, as those who had watched them the previous season in Houston. Until the final game, Adams announced every intention of staying the course in Memphis for two years until the Nashville stadium was completed. However, that final 1997 game, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, proved such an embarrassment to Adams that this plan was changed. The only really large crowd of the entire season appeared to outside observers to be comprised of at least two-thirds Steelers fans, if not more. This caused the scrapping of the plan to play the 1998 season at the Liberty Bowl, and Adams announced that it would instead be played in Nashville in the 41,000-seat on-campus stadium at Vanderbilt University.

When only four of the eight regular-season home games at Vanderbilt sold out for the 1998 season, it began to appear as if the move of the team was going to be a net loss for all concerned. Also, a major tornado had hit the downtown Nashville area in the interim, tearing directly through the new stadium construction site and knocking two tower cranes down onto what is now the playing surface, and for a while the timely completion of the new stadium appeared to be in doubt. But superb work by the contractors and some apparent slack time having been built into the construction schedule obviated the need to play any more games at Vanderbilt. Oilers players becoming personally involved involved in the post-tornado cleanup proved to be a public-relations bonanza for Adams and his team, as did a large charitable contribution made by Adams to relief for the storm's victims. The overall effect of the storm, incredibly, had seemingly had been a positive development for Adams and the Oilers, and more than a few fans, some of them quite seriously, suggested renaming the team the "Tennessee Twisters".

The Tennesse Titans

The following year and the team's arrival at their new stadium was to change almost everything that had occurred in the three previous seasons. (The team had by this time become the only team in NFL history to play four consecutive "home" seasons at four different venues.) Adams announced that the team would henceforth be known as the Tennessee Titans, that navy blue would be added to the team's color scheme, and that this team would be considered to be the continuation of the former Oilers franchise, with all team records to be considered to be continuous and that there would be a Titans/Oilers Hall of Fame honoring the greatest players from both eras. In fact, Adams' desire to ensure that no NFL team would again be called the "Oilers" was thought to be one of the major causes of the delay in announcing a new name for the team; he did not desire the experience which had occurred with the "Cleveland Browns" name to be repeated. The rechristened Titans in their new stadium proceeded to finsh the 1999 regular season with a 13-3 record but nonetheless qualified for the playoffs only as a wild-card team. In their first-round playoff game against the Buffalo Bills, they won on a wild, controversial last-minute kickoff return play involving two lateral passes, the second of which is still contended by Bills fans to have been an illegal forward pass. The team went on to win two subsequent playoff games and appear in its first-ever (and, as of 2005, only) Super Bowl appearance, in Atlanta's Georgia Dome losing 23-16 to the St. Louis Rams and advancing the ball to the St. Louis one-yard line on the game's final play in one of the most thrilling conclusions to a Super Bowl ever.

Since the initial season in Nashville the Titans have not done quite as well. The team won the former AFC Central Division the next year but fell short of the Super Bowl; after the 2003 season the team advanced as far as the AFC Championship Game, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. 2004 was by far the team's worst season since its arrival in Tennessee and it finished with an overall record of 5-11. Adams was again criticised for his decision not to renew the contract of the team's president, returning to that role himself despite continuing to live in Houston and appearing in Nashville generally only on home game days and occassional Titans-related events. Adams is said to have arranged his affairs in such a way as to ensure the team will remain in his family's possession after his death, which appears in no way to be imminent as he has the appearance of a man in remarkably good health for his advanced age.

The Nashville Kats (Arena Football)

In 2001 Adams purchased the rights to operate an Arena football franchise in Nashville for a reported $4,000,000. He found it impossible at first to negotiate a favorable lease for the use of the Gaylord Entertainment Center from that facility's primary tenant and operator, the Nashville Predators National Hockey League team. A previous Arena team had been forced by financial losses to leave Nashville and move to Atlanta despite average attendance of over 10,000 per home game and blamed most of this on an unfavorable lease. Adams' bitter memories of being a secondary tenant at the Astrodome caused him to consider briefly either financing the renovation of the Nashville Municipal Auditorium for use as an indoor football venue, building an entirely new facility with a seating capacity of 12,000 or so (dropped when Adams was convinced that the potential $30,000,000 price tag for such a building he had apparently intially been quoted was wildly optimistic), or expanding the Titans' existing indoor practice facility (at "Baptist Sports Park", named for a local hospital) for use as an Arena venue. Negotiations dragged on, and the Arena Football League extended his option on the new Nashville franchise at least twice. By 2004 Adams and the Predators finally hammered out a mutually-acceptable agreement and it was announced that the new Nashville Kats franchise would begin play in the 2005 Arena season. (The predecessor franchise also continues to operate as the Georgia Force; the current Kats franchise has now reclaimed the Nashville history of the earlier franchise as its own.) Late in 2004 it was announced that country singer Tim McGraw had bought into the Kats franchise as a minority owner.

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