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This Bud's Not For You
Frank Deford
November 02, 1987
Franchise frenzy sizzled on as Jacksonville bid for—and lost—Bud Adams's Oilers
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November 02, 1987

This Bud's Not For You

Franchise frenzy sizzled on as Jacksonville bid for—and lost—Bud Adams's Oilers

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Once upon a time, in a beautiful city that lay by the Magic River that Flows the Wrong Way, the people were very happy. Then one day the caliph said, "But we cannot be happy, for, alas, we do not possess a team." The wise men said uh-huh, the multitudes nodded, and the cry went out over all the great land that a team must be found. Great riches were promised to Emir Irsay and Maharajah Mecom and other potentates who owned teams. But they would not settle in the beautiful city that lay by the Magic River that Flows the Wrong Way. And the people grew sad.

Then a new caliph took over the beautiful city that lay by the Magic River that Flows the Wrong Way, and he said, "The first thing I will do for you, my people, is make you happy by getting a team." And the multitudes cheered—except for one little boy, who said, "Maybe it is best that we do not have a team." The wise men laughed at the little boy, so he put on his Reeboks and went away.

He went to the Duchy of New Orleans, where the people were ashamed of their team and had bags on their heads, and to the Shire of Baltimore, where people were ashamed of their city because they had lost their team. He went to the United Atlanta Emirates and to the Dominion of Columbia, where the people wouldn't even talk to him, for in both lands they were hastening to build a great theater with a roof and silk parlors in the sky to appease the sultans who owned their teams.

So the little boy rushed back to the beautiful city that lay by the Magic River that Flows the Wrong Way, and he told the caliph that he had found the truth—that a city could no longer have a team. It was the other way around: The prince who owns a team has the city. But the caliph and the wise men would not listen, for they had to entertain the Oil Emperor Adams, who said he might bring his team to the beautiful city that lay by the Magic River that Flows the Wrong Way, if only the people would give him 125 million gold pieces and build him a palace for his court and silk parlors in the sky.

Moral: No purchase necessary. Your city may already be a winner.

Jacksonville believes in fairy tales. Why not? The river that bisects it, the St. Johns, is one of the rare rivers—the most glorious being the Nile—that flow north. Jacksonville is only the 47th most populous metropolitan area in the country, but by incorporating its surrounding areas, it has transformed itself, geographically, into the largest in the continental U.S. New York and Los Angeles together could fit comfortably inside Jacksonville. Once known as Cow Ford, Jacksonville is, in fact, about the size of the whole country of Luxembourg. No wonder the town has brashly spent years trying to seduce NFL owners to leave their homes and families behind and find a place within its wide embrace.

Certainly the proposition is enticing. As Green Bay has proved, with a core of fans to buy season tickets and an equal-opportunity league television package, population is not critical to a city's success in the NFL. Moreover, as the "other woman," Jacksonville is not only beautiful but also well endowed. Her Gator Bowl seats nearly 82,000 fans, making it the third-largest municipal stadium in America. And she comes with a dowry: a promise of a new training facility and more sky boxes and a guarantee of $125.8 million. Plus: uncritical love and affection. Jacksonville is not an evil home-wrecker, either. She only goes after husbands whose football marriages are already on the rocks because they have been bad providers—men like Robert Irsay in Baltimore, John Mecom in New Orleans, Rankin Smith in Atlanta, Bill Bidwill in St. Louis and most recently Bud Adams in Houston. The Oilers have been 20-59 since 1982.

So Jacksonville winked, showed a little leg, and two weeks ago Adams came to town. "This Bud's for you," the mayor cried, and the citizens cooed. The people of Jacksonville don't mind playing municipal Mistress America. Both city hall and city businessmen are convinced it's better to have loved and lost than...etc. As the mayor, Tommy Hazouri, says, the NFL is "an odor-free, pollution-free industry," and Jacksonville is always seeking to attract that kind of salutary business. Besides, according to an economic survey, even if a team should stink up the Gator Bowl as thoroughly as Adams's Oilers have stunk up the Astrodome, it will be worth more than $600 million to Jacksonville over the next decade.

So far, all the philandering owners, including Adams, who announced on Monday that he intended to remain in Houston after all, have returned home. They subtly used their dalliances with Jacksonville as leverage to get better deals. Greg Larson, sports columnist for The Florida Times-Union, explained the cynical truth to his readers before Adams made his decision: "Bud Adams has himself set up [so that]...he's going to be a hero.... If he stays...then Houston, where he is somewhat despised now, would embrace him. If he moves to Jacksonville, it's obvious he would be received as the city's alltime hero."

Like most modern owners, Adams responded one-dimensionally: "...this is a business we're in. It's not a hobby."

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