It’s not a referendum on literal or figurative good vs. evil, but over the next week the hearts and minds of Houston area football fans will clearly be on display as two of the city’s icons of the sport are laid to rest.
Bum Phillips, the head coach of the Luv ya Blue era Oilers died Friday, and while he’ll have a private burial on his ranch in Goliad there will be a public memorial at Lakewood Church next week.
Monday, the man that hired and fired Phillips, Oilers founder and Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams, also died. A vilified personality in Houston for years before he moved the Oilers to Tennessee, it goes without mentioning that any public service will not require a space as large as Lakewood to handle the crowd.
The list of things Bud did for Houston football is a long one, but no matter what he did for the city it will be what he did to the city and its fans that will earn Adams scorn during a time that people are more willing to look past the bad and focus on the good.
Adams fired Bum, traded Earl, ripped out the soul of the Astrodome by threatening to leave Houston if the scoreboard wasn’t torn down and additional seats (and suites) put in its place, then left city anyway when he was refused a new stadium to replace the Astrodome less than a decade after he let Harris County gave in to his original demand, footing the bill for renovating it. A bill that the county is still paying more than 15 years after he left for Tennessee.
When Bud left for Tennessee he insisted on taking the Oilers legacy with him. The Titans’ ring of honor reads like a history lesson in Houston football. George Blanda, Kenny Houston, Earl Campbell, Elvin Bethea? Utterly meaningless in Nashville but treasured here in Houston.
At least when Art Modell took the Browns from Cleveland he left the history with the city instead of bringing it to Baltimore.
The Texans, for their part, have embraced the great players from the Oilers days in Houston but it’s not the same. Minute Maid Park has banners of Jose Cruz, Jimmy Wynn and Cesar Cedeno on the concourse retired numbers on the wall above the giant scoreboard. Bud took from Houston fans that same tie to the past. An unforgivable sin.
When Bud flirted with Jacksonville in the 1980s in order to renovate the Astrodome, which required the removal of the iconic exploding scoreboard, he promised to bring a Super Bowl to the city. To his credit he tried to deliver, but was never able to make that promise a reality.
When the Super Bowl bid failed he demanded a new stadium, and again promised a Super Bowl to the city if it complied. But if the county and city refused, there were always cities that would say yes. Less than a decade removed from his last threat, the city and county said no and Bud finally made good on a promise, and moved the Oilers to Tennessee.
Bud Adams will likely be remembered more fondly in Tennessee than in Houston, which is just as well.