I first met Bud Adams, who sadly passed away Monday, in the spring of 1965 in a courtroom in Oklahoma City. His Houston Oilers and the Dallas Cowboys were involved in a lawsuit regarding Ralph Neely, who had been signed first by the Oilers (of the AFL) and then by the Cowboys (of the NFL). The Cowboys ended up keeping Neely, though as compensation, we agreed to play a series of preseason games in Houston; also, as the AFL and NFL were merging, we had to send draft picks to the Oilers for the first NFL/AFL draft, in 1967.
Of course, Adams and myself wound up becoming good friends.
Adams was a league-minded person. He put the NFL first. I remember one league meeting at which a proposed change was short by one vote. Commissioner Pete Rozelle called Adams and explained that the change was for the good of the league. Adams, who always could be counted on to support anything that would make the league better, instructed his representative to vote for the change.
C.O. Brocato, who has worked for Adams' franchise in a scouting capacity for nearly 40 years, can attest to Adams' loyalty. Brocato told me Adams said to him once, "Hey, C.O., what are you doing working so long? It's time for you to retire." Brocato responded, "Mr. Adams, when you quit paying me, I'll retire." And Adams said, "Well, you know I'm not going to quit paying you." And Brocato is employed by the Tennessee Titans to this day.
Adams desperately wanted to win. He cared more about the welfare of his team and the league than he did about the bottom line. That's not to say he threw his money away like some other wealthy guys. He would spend money, but you had to show him it was worth it. Some called him cheap, but he really wasn't. He was just a good businessman.
Here's an interesting note about Adams and former Oilers coach Bum Phillips (who passed away just a few days before Adams). The team was all set to promote Phillips from defensive coordinator to head coach when he balked at terms that would have kept personnel decisions out of his hands. Phillips later told me that he read the contract and said, "If it's all the same, I'll just stay the defensive coordinator." At that point, Adams stepped in and said, "No, we're going to change it just the way Bum wants it."
The players who played for Adams loved him. He also gave a great deal of money to charity. Once, when there was a critical lack of blood in Nashville, Adams put up Super Bowl tickets that anyone who donated blood would be entered to win.
One other thing I'll remember about Adams: He always sent out the greatest Christmas card, with some kind of unbelievable design featuring his family. He was very good to me. In my opinion, he's one of the reasons the NFL is as great as it is today.