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Titans owner Bud Adams was in middle of Border War controversy

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, at 5:13 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, at 5:27 p.m.

Tennessee Titans owner Kenneth “Bud” Adams, who died in his Houston home Sunday at age 90, helped launch the American Football League with Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt.

Adams also was a Kansas Jayhawk, a football letterwinner in 1942 who was fond of the university, said KU associate athletic director John Hadl.

“He was a KU guy,” Hadl said. “He loved it.”

Adams was the son of K.S. “Boots” Adams, a Kansas alum who became CEO of Phillips Petroleum, and the family were major donors to the university. The Adams Alumni Center on campus is named for Boots Adams.

But Bud Adams was also connected to Kansas in a controversial way. In 1959, he paid for a plane ticket to fly Bert Coan, then a freshman running back at TCU, to fly to Chicago for an all-star football game.

Coan transferred to Kansas, prompting a protest from Missouri coach Don Faurot. Coan missed most of the 1960 season because of a shoulder injury but recovered in time to play in the season finale against the Tigers, who were undefeated and ranked No. 1.

With a victory, Missouri assuredly would have been voted the national champion — polls were final after the regular season and before bowl games were played. But Coan rushed for two touchdowns and Kansas prevailed 23-7, claiming the Big Eight championship.

Two weeks later, the Big Eight ruled Coan ineligible and Kansas was forced to forfeit two victories, including the one over Mizzou. The Tigers received the championship trophy and represented the conference in the Orange Bowl, but the polls weren’t adjusted.

Adams joined the Kansas delegation that stood before Big Eight officials at the Hotel Muehlebach when the decision was announced.

The episode remained a sore spot between the schools, with both claiming a different series record. Mizzou counted the forfeit as a victory and, Kansas did not record it as a loss. MU leads the series either way, 56-55-9 or 57-54-9.

But Adams continued his relationship with Kansas, and he and Hadl became friends when he spent his final two professional seasons with the Oilers.

“I’d see him quite often, and he always talked about Kansas,” Hadl said. “I think in his later years, he just kind of drifted away from athletics.”

Adams built his own energy fortune and used it to create the Houston Oilers. He made football history with Hunt, then a Dallas oilman, on Aug. 3, 1959, when the two held a news conference in Houston to announce the AFL would begin competing with the NFL the following year.

Hunt, Adams and the six other original owners of the AFL’s franchises were branded “The Foolish Club.” With Adams’ death, Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson is the only surviving member of the club who still owns his team.

“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,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said in a statement. “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.”

Hunt’s team would be in Dallas and called the Texans. They moved to Kansas City and became the Chiefs after the 1962 season.

The NFL immediately expanded, placing the Cowboys in Dallas, and tried to get into Houston, but Adams held the lease to the city’s one available stadium.

“I wanted to be the only pro team,” Adams said in a 2002 interview with The Associated Press.

The Oilers won the first two AFL titles and reached the league championship game four times in the 1960s. The franchise slumped badly in the post-merger years but rallied in the late 1970s behind running back Earl Campbell.

But Adams was tired of playing in the Astrodome, and followed through on his threat to move the team to Tennessee after the 1996 season. The Tennessee Oilers played for one season in Memphis and another at Vanderbilt’s stadium in Nashville while LP Field was being constructed. After becoming the Tennessee Titans before the 1999 season, the franchise reached the Super Bowl for the first time, losing to the St. Louis Rams.

Eventually, Houston voters approved use of tax money for finance a new football stadium and baseball ballpark, and the expansion Houston Texans played their first NFL season in 2002.

“We feel like we were the catalyst for three new stadiums,” Adams said.

Star news services contributed to this story.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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