Joe Browne, senior adviser to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and league’s longest-serving headquarters employee, talked about how a mischievous Adams would tweak Pete Rozelle, one of Goodell’s predecessors, about signing Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon in 1960. Cannon wound up with Adams‘ upstart AFL Houston Oilers when Rozelle was a young general manager who wanted the touted Louisiana State University running back for his NFL establishment Los Angeles Rams.
“He was one of the brightest, most competitive visionaries in all of professional sports,” Brown told about 1,000 mourners at a memorial service Monday for Adams, who died last week at his Houston home at age 90.
Adams also was remembered as passionate about winning and compassionate in supporting charitable causes.
Munchak, who began his career with the Houston Oilers when he was drafted in 1982, drew laughter when he told how players would look forward to Adams‘ appearances at the end of training camp and how flashy the club owner would be dressed.
“Jackets, pants, ties, suspenders, cowboy hats,” Munchak said. “That was his trademark.”
The Rev. Ed Young, pastor at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, said Adams “was bigger than life.”
“He was the Renaissance man,” Young said. “So many things in so many areas. He was a character, a part of the legendary atmosphere of Texas and Houston and, for that matter, the entire NFL and beyond. He could laugh at himself and laugh at others.”
The Oklahoma-born Kenneth Stanley Adams Jr. followed his father, a chief executive of Phillips Petroleum, into the oil business, but also had interests in farming, ranching, real estate and auto dealerships that made him among Houston’s wealthiest residents.
But Adams was best known for bringing professional football to Houston when he and fellow oilman Lamar Hunt of Dallas announced the founding of the American Football League from his Houston office in August 1959. His Houston Oilers won the first two AFL titles in 1960 and 1961, and his battles for players such as Cannon with the old-guard National Football League helped lead to the two leagues merging.
Two decades later, Adams antagonized some Houston football fans by firing popular coach Bum Phillips, who twice fell one game short of the Super Bowl in the team’s “Luv Ya Blue” era. The alienation escalated when he flirted with moving the team to Jacksonville. He became further reviled when his inability to get a favorable new stadium deal in his adopted hometown prompted him to move the team in 1997 to Tennessee, where they became the Titans.