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Sporting KC to be reunited with trophy

By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star

The case of the missing Major League Soccer Cup trophy has been solved, thanks in no small measure to the power of social media.

Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt reached out to Sporting Kansas City’s ownership group in response to a recent Twitter campaign by Sporting KC fans, who had hoped to see the championship hardware won in 2000 handed over to the franchise, which until last year was known as the Wizards.

“When I heard about the fans’ concerns regarding the whereabouts of the 2000 MLS Cup championship trophy, I reached out to (OnGoal principal investor) Cliff (Illig) and (Sporting KC CEO) Robb (Heineman) to offer to display the trophy at Livestrong this season before it goes on permanent display at Arrowhead,” Hunt said.

The Hunt family owned the MLS franchise when it won the championship in 2000, beating the Chicago Fire 1-0 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., and retained possession of Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy after selling the team to OnGoal 2006.

“That trophy was very, very important to my father (the late Lamar Hunt),” Hunt said. “Of course, it was his first trophy in MLS and first professional trophy since the Dallas Tornado (won the North American Soccer League) in 1971, except for the (Chicago) Bulls’ championships.”

Lamar Hunt was one of the Bulls’ founding investors and remained a part-owner of the team until his death, so he no doubt took satisfaction in their six NBA championships of the 1990s. But keeping the MLS Cup was important enough to Hunt that it emerged as a central part of negotiations when ownership changed hands.

“It was a key deal for Lamar when we bought the team to retain the Cup,” Heineman said. “For us, as much as we wanted it, we completely respected that Lamar (would want it). He valued that trophy as much as his Super Bowl trophy and wanted to keep it. For us, the profound respect we had for Lamar Hunt made it more or less fine that he keep the trophy.”

Speculation swirled that the trophy was on display in Dallas at the headquarters of the Hunt Sports Group, which owns MLS franchises FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew, but Hunt denied that the spoils had ever left Kansas City.

“It went into storage during the renovation of Arrowhead and hasn’t been anywhere except in storage,” Hunt said.

Moreover, Hunt understands the fans’ interest in the trophy’s whereabouts, which is why he said he’ll loan the trophy to Sporting KC for the entire 2012 season.

“I wasn’t really surprised, because trophies are important for anybody who calls themselves a fan of a team,” Hunt said. “I totally understand the fans wondering what happened to the trophy from the 2000 championship, and I’m glad we’re going to be able to put it on display somewhere the fans can see it.”

Fans should be able to sneak a first peek during Sporting KC’s home opener on March 17 against the New England Revolution. Heineman indicated that the trophy’s likely home for the season would be Livestrong Sporting Park’s Members’ Club.

“That’s where I’d like to see it,” Heineman said. “What we may do for this loan period is to display it all over the stadium so that fans can interact with it in a match environment. I think we may try and make it accessible to fans when we aren’t playing games. We have a lot of visitors and it’s a special trophy and I think trophies belong to the fans. The Members’ Club is the right spot for that.”

After the season, the trophy will be returned to the Hunt family and go on display permanently in the Lamar Hunt Gallery at Arrowhead Stadium’s Chiefs’ Hall of Honor presented by Time Warner Cable.

A replica will be made for permanent display at Livestrong Sporting Park.

“We’re sizing the trophy case so that we can fit three or four of ours in there too,” Heineman said.

Full 90 blogger Charles Gooch contributed to this report. To reach Tod Palmer, sports reporter for The Star, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com

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