Bud Adams, a pro football presence for more than half a century as a founder of the American Football League and the owner of the Houston Oilers, who became the Tennessee Titans, died Monday at his home in Houston. He was 90.
The history of the AFL began in 1959 with affluent Texans. Lamar Hunt, the Dallas-based son of oil tycoon H.L. Hunt, conceived the idea for a league that would compete with the long-established NFL.
“When my father, Lamar, set out to start a new league to rival the NFL in 1959, the first person he went to visit was Bud Adams,” said Clark Hunt, chief executive officer of the Kansas City Chiefs. “Lamar, Bud and the other visionary owners of the American Football League believed that fans across the country would embrace pro football if given the chance, and they were right.”
Adams, the owner of Ada Oil in Houston, and Lamar Hunt teamed with six other founding owners in what became known as the Foolish Club, the collective name embodying the formidable task of taking on the NFL.
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The AFL, which began play in 1960, endured rocky financial times but eventually thrived and merged with the NFL in 1970.
Adams obtained his Houston franchise for the AFL’s inaugural fee of $25,000. Forbes magazine estimated the value of the NFL Titans at $1.055 billion this year.
The Oilers won the first two AFL championships, in 1960 and 1961.
By the late 1980s, Adams was complaining the Oilers’ home, the Astrodome, was outmoded. After failing to obtain public financing for a downtown stadium, he moved the Oilers to Tennessee in 1997.
Adams was largely a private man, uncomfortable with public-relations gestures, and he displayed a rough edge at times. In April 1966, after Al Davis was introduced as the new AFL commissioner at a Houston hotel, Adams got into a fight with Jack Gallagher, a sports columnist for The Houston Post who had criticized Oilers management.
“I called him a couple of names, then he said something back to me,” Adams was quoted as saying in “Going Long,” an oral history of the AFL. “I had enough by then, so I just went over and cold-cocked him.”