HOUSTON — Some people in this city never forgave Bud Adams for uprooting the Houston Oilers and moving them to Tennessee.
He left his mark on professional football long before that historic decision, however. As one of the creators of the American Football League, Adams secured his place as an influential innovator.
Monday, in a church across town from where he helped make the Astrodome a happening place, Adams was remembered for all that and much more. Approximately 750 guests attended a memorial service for the late Tennessee Titans owner, who died Oct. 21 at age 90.
Friends and associates honored Adams as a pioneer, football lover and someone who got everything possible out of life, even if he didn't always please everyone.
"Bud was one of the brightest and most competitive visionaries in all of pro sports," longtime NFL executive Joe Browne said in a eulogy. "We in the NFL were fortunate to have Bud Adams for so many decades. He made the league that much better, simply by raising the bar for other clubs to match. Bud, we already miss you."
Photos of Adams with his late wife, Nancy, decorated the foyer of Second Baptist Church, not far from where Adams kept his office since 1959, when he co-founded the AFL to compete with the NFL. The two leagues merged in 1970, accelerating the NFL's rise to a sports behemoth.
On the cover of the memorial program — Celebrating the Life of K.S. "Bud" Adams — he was pictured with the AFC Championship trophy his Titans won in 1999 on the way to the franchise's only Super Bowl appearance.
Titans coach Mike Munchak, wearing a colorful Houston Oilers tie, said he would never forget the owner's beaming smile that day. Munchak, who was drafted by the Oilers in 1982 and has been with the franchise ever since, honored Adams with a touching eulogy.
"He shook my hand and he said, 'Welcome to the Oilers, son,' " he said of their first meeting. "Little did I know that 31 years later I would be standing here honoring the man I worked all these years for. It was a great experience. Mr. Adams was so proud of his football team. He loved what he did. He made a huge impact on a lot of people."
Munchak, who spoke for more than eight minutes of the 50-minute service, remembered Oilers players looking forward to seeing how Adams would be dressed when he visited the team.
"The color combinations, the jackets, the pants, the ties, the suspenders, the cowboy hats," Munchak said with a chuckle.
Later, outside the church, the coach said he wore his tie with Adams in mind.
"I don't think I wore it as well as he did," he said. "But it seemed to fit today."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Nashville mayor Karl Dean were in attendance, as was former Nashville mayor and former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen, who worked with Adams to bring the Oilers to Music City.
General manager Ruston Webster and executive vice president Don MacLachlan were among the Titans officials on hand. Mike Reinfeldt, a former Titans GM, was one of several former Oilers players there as well.
Dr. Edwin Young, who spoke at the end of the service, said Adams was a one-of-a-kind person who stood out for reasons beyond football. The billionaire oilman also owned car dealerships and was involved in cattle ranching and fruit farming. Adams' two daughters and the rest of his family smiled as they listened to the stories.
"Bud was bigger than life. You can't even describe it. He was the Renaissance man, he had so many bases covered in so many areas," Young said. "He was a character, part of the legendary atmosphere of Houston."
At Christmas, Young said, "Bud's house was like Disneyland. It was sort of a Chevy Chase-style Christmas."
Adams wasn't always the most popular man in Houston, of course. Not after he bickered with the mayor about wanting a new stadium for the Oilers. Not after he moved his team to Nashville in 1997.
"That is sort of Bud's legacy. He wasn't afraid of change," Goodell said. "He embraced change, he was willing to go out and do something different. And he did that with a lot of passion. His impact is extraordinary on pro football."
With a smile, Goodell added: "I have a few Bud stories, but I can't tell all of them. Bud always told you exactly how he felt. But he was incredibly valuable to me as commissioner."
The last time Bredesen talked to Adams was on Jan. 3, in a call to wish him a happy 90th birthday.
"When I got a chance to know Mr. Adams, I really liked him. I always had an enormous amount of respect for him. He was a fine man," Bredesen said. "Obviously, everyone is very sorry to see him go, but when you sit here you can't help but say, 'What a life.' He did things the way he wanted to, and he made a big impact."