By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
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The employees were on the Phillips payroll in Bartlesville, drawing full pay. Phillips founder Frank Phillips was furious that Bud had named the company Adams Oil, believing the Adams name was associated with Phillips. He ordered Boots to get his son to change the name, so Bud dropped the last two letters of his surname and rechristened Ada Oil.
According to John Phillips, the son of Frank Phillips, Boots Adams was going to be fired for allowing the Phillips employees to work for Bud. But Boots literally got down on his knees. "He begged and pleaded with father not to fire him and he promised to be loyal to the company forever," John Phillips told author Wallace.
Spencer Murchison says Boots Adams, who died in 1975 at the age of 75, willed very little of his vast estate to his son because, he said, Bud was already a wealthy man.
"Let us all sit down and examine this schematic map of K.S. (Bud) Adams' head. Interesting, isn't it? Over here in this tiny chamber is where the ideas germinate. They wind through this torturous maze, where the guile is added. Now they climb this steep stairway to the storehouse. The money is kept there. When the ideas are properly financed they are speeded to this huge staging area so that they may grow to grandiose proportions."
-- From the 1972 book Blanda, the biography of original Oilers quarterback George Blanda, by Wells Twombly
Although he lacked Boots Adams' reputed charm and charisma, Bud Adams is said to favor his father in one crucial respect: he's a master at the art of the deal.
A family friend relates that Blanche and Boots Adams once gave a dime allowance to each of their children. "Bud talked Mary Louise into taking her dime and buying them each an ice cream cone," the friend recalls. "Mary Louise wound up with nothing, and Bud saved his dime."
In a speech on the "entrepreneurial spirit" he gave to fellow alumni at Culver Military Academy in 1993, Adams recalled his early days in Houston, when he was living at the Rice Hotel for $26 a day and was new to big-time wheeling and dealing. Through his banker, Judge James Elkins of First City National Bank, he learned that a Midwestern oil company was selling its holdings, which included 190 service stations. Adams asked Elkins for a loan of $1.5 million to help finance the purchase.
Elkins offered him 2 percent interest on a loan.
"What about one and three-quarters interest?" Adams said he countered.
"Young man, you don't know a good deal from a bad deal," Elkins supposedly told him.
"I'll take it," Adams said.
Bud Adams was only 24 years old at the time, and the way he told it at Culver, the purchase was his first major deal. To Adams, it was a lesson in the importance of timing and luck.
Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt describes Adams as "unique" in the NFL "because he is a business-thinking person." Adams, Hunt says, hasn't changed much since the two met over steaks at a Houston restaurant to discuss the formation of the AFL, except that he no longer wears a white Stetson.
"Bud deals like an oil man -- he just put ideas out there," says Metro Chairman Billy Burge, the only businessman of any stature who actually supported Adams when he called for construction of a new downtown stadium in 1994. But what works in the somewhat closed world of the oil business, where handshakes and good ol' boy culture still reign, doesn't necessarily translate into the fishbowl environment of professional sports.
It's not the lavish spending on the Warren Moons and Steve McNairs that people recall when they talk about Bud Adams. The stories that have stuck to Bud Adams are the ones about the outrageously wealthy man who'll still nickel-and-dime you at every turn.
Lou Rymkus, the Oilers first coach, won't forget the day he first talked salary with Adams, who offered Rymkus $15,500. At the end of their conversation, Rymkus says, Adams asked, "Now was that $14,500 we agreed on?"
"He's always trying to screw everyone," says Rymkus, who won the first AFL championship for Adams in 1960, then was fired in the middle of the following season. (He was later rehired as an assistant coach.)
Some things don't change. Ask receiver Chris Duncan, whose contract contained an incentive clause promising him a $15,000 bonus if he was picked for the Pro Bowl in 1992. Duncan was, but since he finished in a tie in the Pro Bowl voting with teammate Ernest Givens, the Oilers figured he was deserving of only $7,500. (After Duncan filed a breach-of-contract, he got the other half of the promised money.)
Even his colleagues in the business world have been taken aback by Adams' passion for getting the edge -- even in the most niggling of deals.
Art Dickinson, who worked as a geologist with Adams Resources and still considers himself of friend of Bud's, recalls walking into Adams' office to talk about a major oil exploration effort and finding his boss buried in the classified advertisements.
"I found someone that wants a 1974 Ford pickup door and will pay up to $150," Adams explained. "I think I have one of those on my ranch."