Nathan, I believe the quality you are describing in the Adams print may be Luminance. It is that glow, that shine in a high quality silver gelatin print that is very elusive. It is that quality that makes a print "sing". I have been aware of it for many years and chase it constantly. It it a quality that is not easy to produce. It is like that perfect golf swing that yields a great shot (maybe once a round) that brings you back to the golf course for another go at it. What is in that swing that makes it happen? Certainly the vision to "see" the picture, proper exposure and appropriate development, favorable lighting, the right contrast…….then lots of luck even after you have gotten adequate at the mechans.
Cliveh, I believe you are way off base. The print is everything! The shot or picture itself is only one aspect of a great print.