(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the John McClain interview fast-forward to 5:21 of the following attachment: Ep 41: Bud Adams, Andre Johnson, Deshaun Watson, and the Texans With John McClain | Spreaker)
When the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its Centennial Class of 2020, Bud Adams wasn’t among the three contributors who were enshrined … and no surprise there. The former Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans owner hasn’t been on the contributor short list since the category was created in 2014.
Maybe that doesn’t puzzle you. But it does one Hall-of-Fame voter.
Meet NFL columnist John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, one of the most respected and influential members of the Hall’s board of 48 selectors. Now before we proceed, full disclosure: McClain covered Adams when he was owner of the Oilers. Moreover, as a member of the Hall’s blue-ribbon panel for the Centennial Class, he presented his case to the 25-member board.
In short, McClain is a voice of authority when it comes to all things Houston and Bud Adams. A member of the Hall’s senior subcommittee, he understands history and knows how critical Adams was to the formation of the American Football League and creation of today’s NFL. What he doesn’t understand is why Adams’ Hall-of-Fame candidacy doesn’t have more momentum.
In fact, he said as much when he sat in on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com.
“The first person (former Kansas City owner and AFL co-founder) Lamar Hunt contacted about forming a new league was Bud,” said McClain, “and they announced it in Bud’s office here in Houston. Bud did a lot of things: Helped loan money to teams to keep them afloat. He traded the rights to Joe Namath to the Jets for Jerry Rhome, basically to save the New York franchise (the Titans) and to save the AFL.
“We always say, ‘Can you write the history of pro football without this person?’ You cannot without Bud Adams. He first hired an assistant black general manager. He recruited players and signed them from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (composed of historically black colleges and universities).
“There were a lot of things Bud Adams did back between the first interest with Lamar Hunt in ‘58 when they were introduced by Lamar’s older brother, Bunker, and both of them had tried to buy the Chicago Cardinals ... and the Bidwill family told them no. And that’s how it came about.”
But it’s one thing to create a new pro league. It’s another to make it flourish. There’s a litany of pro-football start-up leagues that tried and failed, including the World Football League to USFL, XFL and Alliance of American Football.
The AFL isn’t one of them. And one of the reasons, said McClain, is Bud Adams. He helped form it. He helped keep it together. His Oilers won the first two league championships. And he helped produce a 1966 league merger to form what ultimately became today’s NFL.
Small wonder, then, that he’s in the AFL Hall of Fame.
“There was a time at one point,” McClain said, “where (Raiders’ owner) Al Davis said he wanted to start signing the NFL's free agents, and Lamar said, ‘No.’ Lamar said, ‘OK, Al’s on that side of the table. Anybody that wants to start signing the NFL's free agents – which meant they really went to war -- sit over there with Al.’
"So Bud went over there and sat with Al, and they immediately started pursuing the NFL’s free agents. And then there was a merger shortly after that. But you very seldom see anybody give Bud Adams credit for that.”
He's right about that. All I know is that with the exception of the Centennial Class, when Adams was one of 10 contributor finalists, he rarely is on the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s radar. McClain would like to see that change … and for all the right reasons.
Because if you write the history of the NFL without Bud Adams, it won’t be complete.