By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Other FOBs tell stories of small kindnesses. Isabel Gerhart, who until recently owned an upscale women's clothing shop near River Oaks, says that since the death of her husband, Adams has offered her counsel on everything from finances to finding a good plumber. The Gerharts were part of a crowd that met for supper at Bud's River Oaks home before every Oilers home game, then boarded a bus for the Dome. According to one former regular, laughing at Adams' lame jokes was the price for the trip. One line was especially grating, and it was heard every time the bus pulled up in front of the Dome.
"Here we are at Astrodome, the eighth wonder of the world," Adams would announce. "And here I am, the ninth ...."
But the ninth wonder of the world's friendships didn't stretch very far or very deep into Houston's power structure, and that left him at a decided disadvantage when he launched his campaign for a new downtown stadium in 1994. As Adams envisioned it, what others would derisively label "the BudDome" would have 75,000 seats for football, a retractable roof and could be adjusted to accommodate basketball and hockey.
The BudDome was a loser from the start. It turned out that Rockets owner Les Alexander, whom Adams said would join him in chipping in some private funding for construction, wanted his own downtown arena. And most of the city's business establishment, which had gone out and helped sell luxury boxes for the Oilers after the Dome was retrofitted in 1988, turned a cold shoulder to Adams.
"They had no interest in working with him," says Jim Kollaer, the president of the Greater Houston Partnership. "He had cried wolf too many times."
One person who did try to work with Adams was Mayor Bob Lanier, who began private discussions with the Oilers owner back in 1993 but came to take a hard-line stance against any public funding of a new football stadium for Adams. Last July, the mayor served notice on Adams that the city would not be subsidizing a new dome. Adams, in turn, sent a letter to Lanier's home threatening to move the team if the city didn't come around to his way of thinking by August 1.
The mayor publicly rejected the demand, and Adams' letter found its way to the press.
Spencer Murchison says that Adams gave up on Houston after Lanier went public with Adams' ultimatum. He likens the episode to Adams' firing of Bum Phillips as Oilers coach in 1980, after three seasons in which Phillips had led the team to the playoffs and had become just about the most popular man in town. It was without a doubt the single most unpopular move Adams had made before he started dickering with Nashville.
According to Murchison, Phillips committed a mortal sin in Adams' eyes by not only refusing to hire an offensive coach, but by going to the media and saying he wouldn't do it -- no matter who had asked him.
"Bud Adams," explains Murchison, "does not like to be criticized in public."
Murchison knew the consequences for Phillips after reading the coach's comments, and he remembers rushing to the phone to call Adams in an effort to head off the coach's firing. He reached Adams' secretary, who told him, "It's too late."
When he read Lanier's public comments last August rejecting Adams' ultimatum, Murchison didn't run to the phone. But he knew the consequences. Soon, Adams would "fire" Lanier and the city and begin negotiating with Nashville.
In doing so, Adams seemed to be reneging on the pledge he made after the Astrodome's 1988 renovation to keep the Oilers in the Dome for the duration of the team's ten-year lease.
"There's an idea in Houston that it is serious when you break your word," says Lanier. "Really and truly, that part shocked me."
Even after Adams had entered into an agreement with Nashville last fall that effectively prevented him from negotiating with Houston or any other city, there was hope against hope that the franchise would remain here.
Kollaer says the Partnership discussed sending a group of emissaries from the business community to Adams, "but publicly and privately, the door was shut."
"He used that [gag order] as cover for not talking to us."
According to an insider who was privy to the Partnership's efforts, during one meeting a member asked whether anyone present had an entree to Adams and could talk to him on behalf of the Partnership.
The room fell silent. Everyone looked at the floor. No one wanted to make the call.
"Bud Adams hasn't been a major player in this city for six years," says Kollaer. "I don't think Bud has the respect anymore because of this circumstance and his personality."
The Oilers moved out of the Adams Petroleum Center, their administrative home for more than three decades, during the last week of April. The building, which Adams sold several years ago but continued to lease, will probably be demolished. The following week, the Oilers began accepting orders for season ticket sales for next season in the Dome, even though Adams reportedly is still trying to buy out the remaining two years of his lease with McLane.