Last week’s pursuit of Peyton Manning very much had the feel of Bud Adams’ last stand. So the Tennessee Titans owner drew on his experiences from some of his first days in the business.
At 89 years old, the franchise founder has to feel that time is running short on his chance to win a Super Bowl. After all, he has seen his team play in that game only once — more than a decade ago — and playoff opportunities and postseason triumphs have not exactly been plentiful since.
So it made sense that Adams wanted to get someone he felt was the best player on the planet — and he was willing to do just about anything he could think of to close the deal. Given that the player in question was the only four-time most valuable player in league history, it was tough to argue with his zeal.
After all, much has changed in the 50-plus years since Adams created the Houston Oilers. One thing has not: You can’t win if your players are not good enough.
Adams proved right from the outset that he was willing to do what was necessary, if given the opportunity, to sign someone he thought was a significant difference-maker.
Back in 1960, when the Oilers and their partners in the upstart American Football League prepared for their debut, Adams decided it was imperative that he signed Billy Cannon, one the team’s first draft picks and the 1959 Heisman Trophy winner at LSU. The only problem was that Cannon also had the opportunity to play in the NFL, which was more established in terms of finances and prestige.
In the days prior to Super Bowl XXIV in Atlanta, Adams recalled with delight how he brought Cannon to Houston and showed him a good time — a steak dinner and a few pretty girls. “They were nice girls, they weren’t hookers or anything,” Adams joked.
He got Cannon to sign on the dotted line and — lo and behold — the Oilers won the first two AFL championships. It was one of the best deals he ever made.
The first year, Cannon’s 88-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter sealed the title contest as the Oilers defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 24-16. He rushed for 50 yards on 18 carries and caught three passes for 128. The next year he scored the only touchdown — on a 35-yard reception — as the Oilers again defeated the Chargers, this time 10-3.
Adams has not hoisted a league championship trophy since.
Times have changed and the process was a little more involved this time.
Manning wasn’t interested in a hearty meal or a pretty smile. He had tough questions — lots of them — for the team’s football and personnel leaders. And as a free agent, he had more than just two choices. He seemingly had his pick from among any number of teams, and he spoke to three others before he ever came to town on Adams’ private jet.
Yet Adams made clear what he wanted and what he was willing to do when he publicly proclaimed that he was prepared to offer Manning a position within the organization well beyond his playing days. The idea, of course, was that those playing days would include some memorable and historic triumphs with the Titans.
Time passes quickly. Peyton Manning passes efficiently and effectively.
Bud Adams has been around long enough to know that you can’t ignore the former and you can’t underestimate the value of the latter.
Desperate to assemble a team talented enough to win a title, he reached back in time and did whatever he could to get the best available player on his team. After all, it worked once.