Bud Adams, owner of NFL’s Titans, dies at 90

Updated: October 21, 2013, 3:12 PM ET

ESPN.com news services

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans owner K.S. “Bud” Adams Jr. has died in his Houston home. He was 90.

The team announced Monday that Adams had died, saying he “passed away peacefully from natural causes.”

The son of a prominent oil executive, Adams built his own energy fortune and used it to found the Houston Oilers in the upstart American Football League.

Adams moved the team to Tennessee after the 1996 season when he couldn’t get the new stadium he wanted in Houston. The franchise, renamed the Titans, in 2000 reached the Super Bowl Adams had spent more than three decades pursuing.

“I’m extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Bud Adams. Mr. Adams gave me my first opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL, and I’m eternally grateful to him for that,” former Titans coach Jeff Fisher said in a statement. “We enjoyed a great deal of success together during my 17 seasons with the organization, and I’ll cherish those memories for the rest of my life.”

Kenneth Stanley Adams Jr. was born in Bartlesville, Okla., to the future chief executive of Phillips Petroleum Co., K.S. “Boots” Adams.

His 409 wins were the most of any current NFL owner.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that Adams “was truly a gift to the NFL.”

“He was a brilliant entrepreneur with a terrific sense of humor that helped lighten many a tense meeting. His commitment to the best interests of the game and league was unwavering, and his personal along with the team’s impact in community relations and philanthropy set a standard for the NFL,” Goodell said in the statement.

Adams, an avid sports fan who sponsored amateur basketball and softball teams, made football history with Dallas oilman Lamar Hunt on Aug. 3, 1959, when the two held a news conference in Houston to announce the AFL would begin competing with the NFL the following year.

Adams, who had unsuccessfully tried to bring the NFL’s Cardinals to Houston, founded one of the new league’s charter franchises. The NFL immediately retaliated by placing the Cowboys in Dallas and tried to get into Houston, but Adams held the lease to the one available stadium.

“I wanted to be the only pro team,” Adams said in a 2002 interview with The Associated Press.

He won a major off-field battle with the NFL in June 1960, shortly before the AFL’s debut, when a judge ruled Louisiana State Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon — who signed with the Oilers underneath the goalposts after the Sugar Bowl that year — was their property despite having later signed with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams.

“It was a big step for us,” Adams said.

The Oilers, named for his successful amateur teams, won the first two AFL titles and reached the championship game four times during the 1960s. In 1968, the Oilers became the first indoor football team when they moved into the 3-year-old Astrodome.

“I consider Bud one of the founders of the game of professional football because of his role in helping to create the American Football League,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “Loyalty was always a strong trademark of Bud Adams. He turned down an opportunity to place an NFL team in Houston, because he had already made a prior commitment to Lamar Hunt and the AFL. Bud was a role model for me. He was a great man and a great Texan. He will be missed and remembered.”

Meanwhile, Adams quietly became one of the nation’s wealthiest oilmen as his ADA Oil Co. evolved into the publicly traded Adams Resources & Energy Inc., a Fortune 500 company based in Houston.

His business interests also took him to farming and ranching interests in Texas and California, cattle feeding, real estate and automobile sales. He also was a major collector of western art and Indian artifacts and maintained a private gallery at his corporate headquarters.

The sports world was where he had his highest profile, however.

His Oilers slumped badly in the years following the 1970 merger between the AFL and the NFL, only to rise to prominence in the late 1970s when Adams convinced Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse to trade him the rights to Heisman Trophy-winning running back Earl Campbell in 1978.

The Campbell-led teams reached two straight AFC title games, only to lose to eventual Super Bowl winner Pittsburgh each time. The Oilers flamed out of the playoffs early in 1980 and Adams reacted by firing popular coach Bum Phillips, a move that permanently alienated him from many fans of the team’s “Luv Ya Blue” era. Phillips died Friday, also at the age of 90.

Adams further irritated Houstonians in 1987 when he first began complaining about the Astrodome and toured the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville to scout a possible move. Harris County relented and added the 10,000 extra seats Adams demanded.

The Oilers had their longest run of success in the late 1980s and early 1990s but became best known for blowing a record 32-point lead in a playoff game at Buffalo on Jan. 3, 1993 — Adams’ 70th birthday.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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