Adams Family Values

The mood should have been celebratory around the Adams Petroleum Center. It was the day of the 61st NFL draft, and the Oilers had managed to land Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George, a powerful running back expected to be a key addition to what everybody says will be an up-and-coming team next season.

But there was little to celebrate on the first floor of Bud Adams' redoubt south of the Texas Medical Center, where a desultory contingent of reporters and cameramen had gathered in a makeshift media room that was once a gift shop. On one wall hung an Oiler-blue banner, a few dirty spots visible on the lower right-hand corner. On a table sprawled an unappetizing collection of dry bagels. A bottle of cheap white wine floated in an Igloo cooler on the floor. The sense of impermanence was palpable.

"Is Bud Adams here?" asked one reporter.
An Oilers underling shook his head sorrowfully, in a way that clearly said, "Are you kidding?"

Indeed, on the basement floor below, where K.S. "Bud" Adams Jr. has headquartered his $240 million business empire, the hallway was dark. The doors to Adams' offices were shut. A huge stuffed Brahman with glassy eyes lurked ominously in the shadows, as if on guard against interlopers.

It was behind those doors that Bud Adams and H.L. Hunt's youngest boy Lamar announced the formation of the American Football League back in 1959. That's when Houston was in love -- well, at least in like -- with a younger and somewhat sleeker Bud Adams, who, in a typically Texas fashion, had cast his lot with a fellow football wildcatter after unsuccessfully trying to bring an NFL team to Houston. Over the next three decades, Adams' $25,000 gamble paid off nicely.

A little more than two weeks after the Oilers drafted Eddie George, voters in Nashville approved spending $80 million in public money on a new $232 million stadium for the Oilers, effectively sealing the deal for Adams to move his team to Tennessee. Typically, the 73-year-old Adams didn't stick around Nashville for the post-election celebration, instead hurrying back to Houston to execute an oil lease. With the possible exception of a couple of potentially surreal lame-duck Oilers seasons in the Astrodome, the Nashville vote was the last act in a story that has taken us from those crazy, heady days of "Love Ya Blue" to the succinct bumper sticker kiss-off of "Bye, Bud."

All that's left between Houston and Bud Adams is a smoldering hatred -- and maybe a deep, unrelieved hurt on both sides.

"It takes a long time to accumulate the animosity Bud is carrying with him," says Al Jamison, an offensive tackle who played on Adams' original Oilers team in 1960. "It's just been accumulating in a big old sack he's carrying to Nashville."

But before he takes it with him, we might ask: how did it come to that?

For someone the city has so vilified, it seems as if Houston never really knew Bud Adams very well. An intensely private man, Adams rarely granted interviews and has never been much of a presence in the city's social or political circles. Of late, he hasn't even been much of a presence at the Adams Petroleum Center, a once-prestigious address that is soon to be shuttered and probably demolished.

There was a time, however, when Houston saw Bud Adams in a different light. Consider this 1950 article in the Chronicle, which rhapsodized, in the fawning prose of the day, about a relatively new arrival making his mark on the city:

"A new, dynamic and throbbing success story is being blazed across Houston millionaire-bedecked firmament by one of the nation's youngest executives, Kenneth S. Adams Jr., president of the Ada Oil Company.

"At 27, this handsome and athletic son of a famous father, K.S. Adams, who was president of Phillips Petroleum Company, has swept his way from an inconspicuous start in Houston in April 1946 to a position of respect and admiration in the tough Gulf Coast business league."

To even begin to understand Bud Adams, it helps to know how he got to Houston, and what he left behind in Oklahoma.

The way Bud Adams has always told it, he had landed in Houston quite by chance. He was on his way to the Sugar Bowl on January 1, 1946, when fog caused his plane to be grounded in Houston. He looked around the booming town and decided, then and there, that he wanted to "sink my tap root right here."

A friend close to the Adams' family tells a slightly different story. Back in Bartlesville, Bud's father, K.S. "Boots" Adams Sr., was remarrying. The self-made millionaire had divorced Bud's mother, Blanche, the year before. Boots' new wife, an attractive secretary from San Antonio -- she'd be called a trophy wife these days -- wanted all of the old family members dispatched out of town. Bud Adams, then 23, chose Houston as his destination.

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Bonnie Gangelhoff