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RANDY HARVEY

Owners Adams and Frontiere Seem Out of Place

January 23, 2000|RANDY HARVEY

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Life isn't fair. Or at least the NFL isn't. With one more victory, Georgia Frontiere and Bud Adams will be in the Super Bowl. That would be like Bonnie and Clyde becoming bankers of the year.

What did Frontiere and Adams steal? Not their teams. Adams had as much right to move his Oilers, now Titans, to Tennessee in 1997 as Frontiere had to move her Rams to St. Louis two years earlier. What they stole was the joy from football fans in Houston and Anaheim that was sapped by inept ownership.

Frontiere and Adams are almost as reviled in their former hometowns as Art Modell is in Cleveland. But at least Modell is a nice guy. Adams once declined to leave his seat to greet Modell when their teams met at the Astrodome. No offense intended, Adams said, but he hadn't yet broken in his new pair of boots.

You know all about Frontiere.

The Super Bowl ticket-scalping scandal that landed husband No. 7, Dominic Frontiere, in prison for tax evasion; the gift of Cabbage Patch dolls to the players after a 51-7 playoff drubbing by the Washington Redskins; the Halloween trade of Eric Dickerson; her appeal to fans to come to games because, "Why shouldn't they suffer with me?"

"What did I do wrong here?" she asked, en route to St. Louis after the Rams had failed to advance to the playoffs for five consecutive seasons in Anaheim.

"She ran that franchise into the ground," former Ram defensive end Jack Youngblood said.

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Adams is no more deserving of the success he's enjoying in Nashville than Frontiere is in St. Louis, but at least he didn't inherit his team.

He founded the Oilers, right after he and Lamar Hunt met in Adams' office in Houston in 1959 and founded the American Football League.

Adams was the original George Steinbrenner. Lou Rymkus coached the Oilers to an AFL championship and was fired during the next season. His successor, Wally Lemm, coached that team to another championship and had a 10-0 record the next season when he was fired. Up I-45, the Dallas Cowboys had one coach, Tom Landry, in their first 26 seasons. In their first 26 seasons, the Oilers had 13 coaches.

The second-worst mistake Adams made in Houston was letting Bum Phillips go. He was a coaching legend in Texas, winning high school championships with teams from the piney woods to the panhandle, and he coached the Oilers in their "Luv Ya Blue" glory years of the late '70s.

After the Oilers lost the AFC championship game at Pittsburgh in January 1979, 50,000 fans turned out at the Astrodome to celebrate their season.

"It's hard to believe now, but when Bum was the coach and Earl Campbell was playing, the Oilers were arguably a bigger deal in Texas than the Cowboys," said Ed Fowler, who wrote a book, "Losers Take All," about the Oilers' move from Houston.

They were 10-6 in 1978 and 11-5 the next season, which ended with another loss at Pittsburgh in the conference championship game. A second consecutive 11-5 season in 1980 ended with a first-round playoff loss to the Raiders.

Adams believed the Oilers were fading, and even though the Raiders validated themselves as a formidable opponent by winning the Super Bowl, it was too late for Phillips. Adams had fired him on New Year's Eve.

Phillips was philosophical.

"There's only two kinds of coaches," he said, speaking to a reporter while sitting atop a tractor on his farm, "them's that's fired and them's that's going to get fired."

Adams claimed that Phillips orchestrated his firing so that he would be available for a more lucrative job in New Orleans. But if it came down to Bum vs. Bud in the court of public opinion, Bum was going to go undefeated and untied.

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What was the worst mistake Adams made in Houston?

Some might say it was refusing to fire a general manager even after he had been hauled away in handcuffs from the team's hotel in Buffalo for mooning a wedding party. In fact, Adams' biggest mistake was asking for more money.

In 1987, Adams threatened to move the Oilers to Jacksonville, Fla., unless the Astrodome were renovated. No one took him seriously. The NFL would never allow a team in Jacksonville, the nation's 55th-ranked television market.

According to Fowler's book, Adams further alienated the city's female mayor by propositioning her. But, ultimately, the city and county relented, spending $87 million in expansion and upgrades in return for his signature on a 10-year lease.

Six years into it, Adams demanded a new $235-million stadium for the Oilers, Rockets and a potential NHL team. He would contribute $85 million and the name, the Bud Dome.

He was told that he could go somewhere even hotter than Houston.

"It was the first time that an NFL owner had put a gun to the same city's head twice," Fowler said.

Adams could argue now that his proposal would have saved taxpayers money, considering that the stadium for the NFL expansion team and the proposed basketball and hockey arena, if ever built, will cost more than $600 million.

But Houstonians don't care if they lost money in the divorce as long as he was out of the house. Like the country song says, "Thank God and Greyhound, you're gone."

They were so turned off by him that they don't want the name Oilers for their new team. We can go them one better. We were so turned off by Frontiere that we don't even want a new team.

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Randy Harvey can be reached at his e-mail address: randy.harvey@latimes.com

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