Tennessee Titans owner K.S. “Bud” Adams Jr., who helped found the American Football League and whose battles for players helped lead to the merger with the National Football League, died over the weekend at his home in Houston. He was 90.
The Titans announced the death Oct. 21 but did not disclose the cause.
The son of a prominent oil executive, Mr. Adams built his own energy fortune and founded the Houston Oilers. He moved the team to Tennessee in 1997 when he couldn’t get the new stadium he wanted in Houston. The franchise, renamed the Titans, in 2000 reached the Super Bowl that Mr. Adams had spent more than three decades pursuing.
Mr. Adams’s 409 wins were the most of any current NFL owner. He got his 400th career win in the 2011 season finale when his Titans defeated the team that replaced his Oilers in Houston, the Texans. His franchise made 21 playoff appearances in 53 seasons, eighth among NFL teams since 1960.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called Mr. Adams an innovator.
“As a founding owner of the American Football League that began play in 1960, Bud saw the potential of pro football and brought the game to new cities and new heights of popularity, first in Houston and then in Nashville,” Goodell said in a statement.
Kenneth Stanley Adams Jr. was born Jan. 3, 1923, in Bartlesville, Okla., to the future chief executive of Phillips Petroleum, K.S. “Boots” Adams. The younger Adams was an engineering graduate of the University of Kansas and served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II.
Mr. Adams became a wildcatter after the war, starting a company that became Adams Resources & Energy. At a news conference in his Houston office on Aug. 3, 1959, he and Dallas oilman Lamar Hunt announced that the AFL would begin competing with the NFL. Mr. Adams founded one of the new league’s charter franchises.
The NFL retaliated by placing the Cowboys in Dallas and tried to get into Houston, but Mr. Adams held the lease to the one available stadium. “I wanted to be the only pro team,” Mr. Adams said in a 2002 interview with the Associated Press.
He won a major battle with the NFL in June 1960, shortly before the AFL’s debut, when a judge ruled Louisiana State running back and Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon — who signed with the Oilers underneath the goalposts after the Sugar Bowl that year — was committed to them despite having later signed with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams.
“It was a big step for us,” Mr. Adams said.
The Oilers 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 three-year-old Astrodome.
Meanwhile, Mr. Adams quietly became one of the nation’s wealthiest oilmen as his ADA Oil evolved into the publicly traded Adams Resources & Energy, a Fortune 500 company based in Houston. His business interests included farming and ranching 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.
Mr. 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 the eventual Super Bowl winner, the Pittsburgh Steelers, each time. The Oilers flamed out of the playoffs early in 1980 and Mr. Adams fired popular coach Bum Phillips, a move that permanently alienated him from many fans of the team’s “Luv Ya Blue” era. Mr. Phillips died Friday, also at the age of 90.
The Oilers had their longest run of success in the late 1980s and early 1990s after signing quarterback Warren Moon in 1984. They became best known for blowing a record 32-point lead in a playoff game against the Bills at Buffalo on Jan. 3, 1993 — Mr. Adams’s 70th birthday.
Renamed the Titans, his franchise reached its lone Super Bowl after the 1999 season only to lose to the Rams 23-16 when Kevin Dyson was tackled at the St. Louis 1-yard line as time expired. The Titans made a second AFC championship game after the 2002 season as part of six playoff berths, the last in 2008.
Mr. Adams’s wife of 62 years, the former Nancy Neville, died in 2009, and their son, K.S. Adams III, died in 1987 at age 29 of an apparent suicide. Survivors include two daughters and seven grandchildren.