Titans owner Bud Adams, who helped found the American Football League and whose battles for players helped lead to the merger with the NFL, has died. He was 90.
The team announced Monday that Adams had died, saying he "passed away peacefully from natural causes."
The son of a prominent oil executive, 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 Adams had spent more than three decades pursuing.
Adams' 409 wins were the most of any current NFL owner. He won 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.
"I consider Bud one of the founders of the game of professional football because of his role in helping to create the American Football League," Dallas owner Jerry Jones said in a statement.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called Adams a pioneer and 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 in Bartlesville, Okla., to the future chief executive of Phillips Petroleum Co., K.S. "Boots" Adams.
Adams joined Dallas oilman Lamar Hunt on Aug. 3, 1959, when they announced the AFL would begin competing with the NFL at a news conference in Adams' office. 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 Adams held the lease to the one available stadium.
"I wanted to be the only pro team," 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 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon -- who signed with the Oilers underneath the goalposts after the Sugar Bowl that year -- was their property despite having later signed with the NFL's Los Angeles Rams.
"It was a big step for us," 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 3-year-old Astrodome.
Meanwhile, Adams quietly became one of the nation's wealthiest oilmen as his ADA Oil Co. evolved into the publicly traded Adams Resources
amp; Energy Inc., 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.
"He was very passionate about his football team," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of his former boss on 104.5 The Zone WGFX-FM.
Adams convinced Tampa Bay 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 eventual Super Bowl winner Pittsburgh each time. The Oilers flamed out of the playoffs early in 1980 and Adams fired popular coach Bum Phillips, a move that permanently alienated him from many fans of the team's "Luv Ya Blue" era. Phillips died Friday, also at the age of 90.
Adams complained about the Astrodome in 1987 and toured the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville scouting a possible move before getting the 10,000 extra seats he wanted in Houston.
The Oilers had their longest run of success in the late 1980s and early 1990s after signing Warren Moon in 1984. They became best known for blowing a record 32-point lead in a playoff game at Buffalo on Jan. 3, 1993 -- Adams' 70th birthday.
Adams began railing about the aging Astrodome shortly afterward. When he moved his team, Adams continued to live and work in Houston.
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.
His wife Nancy died in 2009. He is survived by daughters Susie Smith and Amy Strunk, and seven grandchildren. Another son, Kenneth Stanley Adams III, died in 1987 at age 29.
Reaction to the Death of Titans Owner Bud Adams
"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. 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. ... Lamar and Bud enjoyed a friendship that spanned five decades and saw the emergence of pro football as America's Game. Our family will always appreciate Bud's spirited and enthusiastic support of my father's "foolish" idea, and we are saddened today by the news of his passing." -- Kansas City Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt
"His commitment to the best interests of the game and league was unwavering, and his personal along with the team's impact in community relations and philanthropy set a standard for the NFL. Bud was truly a gift to the NFL. We extend our deepest sympathy to his daughters Susan and Amy, and the entire family." -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell
"Mr. Adams gave me my first opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL, and I'm eternally grateful to him for that. We enjoyed a great deal of success together during my 17 seasons with the organization, and I'll cherish those memories for the rest of my life." -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, former Oilers-Titans coach between November 1994 and January 2011
"He could have just eased through life. A lot of people do that, and he didn't. He went out and lived it. He did things the way he wanted to, and sometimes we'd all wring our hands when he said what he wanted to. And I admire him for it. Probably most of us should do a little more of that." -- Phil Bredesen, former Nashville mayor and Tennessee governor who negotiated the Oilers' relocation with Adams
"We are sad to hear about the passing of Titans Owner Bud Adams. I will never forget when I first bought the Redskins how gracious he was and the passion that he had for pro football. It was wonderful to be one of his friends." -- Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder
"Loyalty was always a strong trademark of Bud Adams. He turned down an opportunity to place an NFL team in Houston, because he had already made a prior commitment to Lamar Hunt and the AFL. Bud was a role model for me. He was a great man and a great Texan. He will be missed and remembered." -- Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
"Tennesseans will remember and always be grateful to Bud Adams for bringing us the excitement of professional football, as well as for his big and generous heart." -- U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R.-Tenn.
"Bud obviously played a critical role in bringing professional football to Nashville and Tennessee. Nashville has grown and exploded. Honestly, being the home of a professional football team has made a big difference there. I did not know Bud had passed away. I'm really sad to hear that, sorry for his family. It's think it's really important we recognize the contribution he's made to the state." -- Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam