Being a football fan just short of fanaticism (age cures a lot of sports mental illness while infecting us with other forms), I have some personal recollections of two icons of The Coming of Pro Football to Houston, O. A. (Oail Andrew) “Bum” Phillips and Kenneth S. “Bud” Adams.
Bum, of course, captured the fancy of more than mere football fans with his folksy observations, his unmistakable caricature and his absolute country boy loyalty to those who gained the much-desired “Friend of Bum” title.
He took a 1970s Houston Oiler team of moderate physical talent and built it into an over-accomplishing “Luv Ya Blue” suitor for the Houston sports fans’ love and adoration. When he fell from favor with Oilers owner Bud, he was unceremoniously dumped after the “just-short” 1980 goal of “kicking in the door” to a league championship.
One of Bum’s stumbling blocks was a loss in godforsaken Pittsburg cold weather. Prior to the battle in that wintry setting, “Coach” came up with one of his jewel quotes: “How do you prepare to be miserable.”
Bud, a wealthy oilman and one of the founders (along with Lamar Hunt) of the old American Football League, was long viewed as a hero for bringing professional football to Houston and Texas. However, vilification was permanently pasted to his hide when he fired the iconic Bum. And, being a rich oil tycoon rarely invokes saintly public appraisals.
Then, Bud earned perhaps permanent public disdain when, after his pleas for a better publicly-owned stadium for his Oilers were rejected by the public, he moved his football franchise to Tennessee and, after one season, renamed them the Titans.
“COACH” endeared himself to non-football fans, even to women who’d never stoop to watch the violent sport, with his country courtliness. Bum was Texan through and through from the Stetson on his crew-cut head to being shod with custom boots. However, he refused it to wear the hat in the first Houston Domed Stadium because “my mama taught me that gentlemen don’t wear their hats indoors.”
But, his very personal father-son relationship with legendary running back Earl Campbell also struck a melodic chord with the public. Earl dressed Western as did his father figure coach.
Adams came to Texas to make his own name. His father was president of Phillips Petroleum in Oklahoma. Bud named his fledgling oil enterprise Ada Oil Co., a little twist of is family name.
He was more instrumental than he was ever given credit for in the building of the Astrodome, the country’s first covered, all-weather football stadium, but his public persona took a pounding when he fired Bum.
Those early Oiler years saw them debuting in public school Jeppesen Stadium, hardly a pro facility even in the late Fifties.
MY RARE and limited exposure to professional football news coverage came in 1960 right after my college graduation from the University of Houston, as I took extra jobs to establish myself in the workaday world.
At the time, I’d succumbed to what I thought was the glamorous world of business magazine journalism at the not-so-glitzy salary of $300 a month. So I took a per-game job of “spotter-official statistician’s helper” in the not-so-glamorous world of press box game day work. So, I pocketed a few (very few) of Bud’s bucks to make ends meet.
I wish I could lay claim to some entertaining connection with Bum, but I can’t. But, I am grateful that he gave many journalists a lot to write about, even the ultimate country newsman-wannabe sports writer, me.
And, those are my only bona fides as to a connection with the two B brands on professional football in Houston.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.