Kansas City Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt died 10 years ago Tuesday on Dec. 13, 2006. In the days that followed, The Kansas City Star chronicled his life, professional career and impact on the city, professional football and other pro sports.
Below are some of those stories.
No. 1 sports fan is cheered; The Chiefs owner had an impact that was felt well beyond the playing field, friends and family recall.
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Published on Dec. 17, 2006 in The Kansas City Star
By Randy Covitz
DALLAS — At precisely 12:30 p.m. Saturday, the church bells tolled at Highland Park United Methodist Church as the limousines pulled in front of Moody Coliseum on the Southern Methodist University campus.
This was one of Lamar Hunt’s favorite places. And about 1,000 people gathered in the historic gym at Hunt’s beloved alma mater and paid tribute to Hunt, who died Wednesday at the age of 74 after a eight-year bout with prostate cancer.
Hunt, the Chiefs’ founder, was remembered as a visionary, a gentleman and a sports pioneer during a 90-minute service.
“Whether it was attending 60 straight Cotton Bowl games or seeing his grandchildren playing soccer just a few weeks ago, Dad always wanted to be there,” said Clark Hunt, one of Lamar’s sons.
“When he and my mother were dating, one weekend they attended five football games,” he added. “He was fond of referring to that weekend as a fipple-header.”
A large color portrait of Hunt adorned the stage between floral arrangements. Typical of Hunt, the service was simple and his family wanted to celebrate, not mourn, his life.
His longtime confidant, Chiefs vice chairman Jack Steadman; his daughter, Sharron Munson; and sons Clark and Dan gave moving eulogies while Hunt’s wife, Norma, sat in the front row.
His oldest son, Lamar Jr., played a heartfelt hymn, “The Dance of the Blessed Spirits,” on the flute.
Saturday’s service also included a who’s who from the National Football League, including the league’s last two commissioners, Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell.
Owners of at least 12 NFL teams attended, including Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson and Tennessee’s Bud Adams — the last surviving members of “The Foolish Club,” with whom Hunt founded the American Football League in 1959.
Also attending were former Chiefs players E.J. Holub, Sherrill Headrick and Curtis McClinton, who were members of the Dallas Texans before Hunt moved the team to Kansas City in 1963, and current Chiefs running back Priest Holmes, who missed this season because of injury.
Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer, recalled seeing Hunt at the MLS Cup championship game Nov. 12 at the soccer-specific stadium built by the Hunt Sports Group in the Dallas suburb of Frisco.
“Lamar was about as happy as we’ve ever seen him, even after the game, walking on the field with a big smile on his face, “ he said.
Garber also remembered how active Hunt was even years after his cancer diagnosis.
“We saw him at a number of World Cups,” Garber said. “I traveled with him in 2002, and he had more energy than any of us young guys running around throughout Korea and Japan — and like only Lamar could do, not in the VIP way.”
Steadman, who with Hunt spearheaded the building of the Truman Sports Complex in 1972, said the upcoming $575 million renovations of Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums were foremost on Hunt’s mind, almost to the day he died.
“Lamar never stopped thinking of ways to make the game better, as well as the sports complex,” Steadman said. “During our last time together, he said, ‘Jack, be sure we get the new Arrowhead design’s construction right. We owe it to our fans and the taxpayers who supported it.’ He wasn’t thinking about himself, but the people in Kansas City who supported his franchise that he loved so much.”
Hunt also loved Southern Methodist, where he was a third-team wide receiver from 1952 to 1955.
He served on the university’s board of trustees, was the 1973 recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award and donated $5 million to help build a new football stadium.
“Other than his family, he had two great loves, “ university president R. Gerald Turner said. “One was SMU and one was the Chiefs, and the order of those depends on who’s talking to you.
“... If we had an event, we’d have somebody watch for Lamar or he would come in and sit in the back. Of all the great graduates that we’ve had, I would imagine he’s the best known in the country.”
As the service was under way in Dallas, the Chiefs were in San Diego preparing for tonight’s game against the Chargers.
Hunt’s death could spur the team on, much the way the New York Giants responded a year ago with a big victory days after that team’s longtime owner, Wellington Mara, died.
“Hopefully this does give us that extra go-ahead to go out there and get it done for our owner and founder, one of the founders of the whole league, “ said tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Besides founding the AFL, which merged with the NFL in 1966, Hunt founded World Championship Tennis in 1969 at a time when the world’s top players could not play professionally, and he helped found the North American Soccer League and later MLS.
“The first sports league meeting I ever went to was in August 1969, a meeting of the North American Soccer League, and believe it or not, the meeting was held on Lamar Hunt’s bed in a hotel room at the Atlanta airport, “ recalled Tagliabue. “That’s how small the league was. Less than a year after that, the Chiefs were making their Super Bowl run and winning it.”
Hunt’s pioneer spirit was not lost on Grace Hunt, his 7-year-old granddaughter, who asked her mother, Tavia, whether there was football in heaven.
“Tavia did her best job of suggesting there might be,” Clark Hunt said, “and Grace replied, ‘It doesn’t really matter. If there isn’t football in heaven, Pappy will start his own league.’”
The Star’s Elizabeth Merrill contributed to this report.
Beauty in the little things; Lamar Hunt, a sports giant, cared about small details. And he’d talk about rules, numbers, children — just about anything but himself.
Published on Dec. 17, 2006 in The Kansas City Star
By Joe Posnanski
Lamar Hunt, the founder of the Kansas City Chiefs, the man who named the Super Bowl and a guy who once tried to buy Alcatraz, called the cell phone a couple of years ago when my wife and I were in the doctor’s office with our oldest daughter.
“Is she all right?” he asked with grave concern in his voice.
“Oh. Yes, she’s fine. It’s just a regular checkup.”
“Well, you take care of her. I can wait. If you would be kind enough to call me back later, that would be great.” And he hung up the phone so quietly that I was not entirely sure he had gone.
This will be a series of small stories because that’s what Lamar Hunt appreciated. He may have had a larger effect on American sports than anyone who ever lived, but he did not find himself very interesting. That’s a rare quality among rich and accomplished men. It is the first thing anyone who met Lamar Hunt noticed.
“He’s just a regular guy,” they would say — everybody said that. Bill Grigsby, that beautiful Chiefs announcer, often remembered loaning Hunt change so he could buy coffee. Brian Waters, the Chiefs Pro Bowl tackle, often remembered how Hunt wanted to talk about places they both knew in Texas. Fred Arbanas, the great Chiefs tight end of the 1960s, often remembered Hunt serving the players food and drinks on the plane to road games. And so on.
Everyone remembered small things with Lamar Hunt. He would have liked that.
Lamar Hunt wanted to be called the Chiefs “founder” rather than the Chiefs “owner.” He insisted on it, and he rarely insisted on things.
“To me,” he said, “every Chiefs fan has ownership in the team. They are just as invested emotionally as I am. I was able to bring the team to Kansas City, but it is Kansas City’s team.”
Lamar Hunt had a unique way of turning conversations away from personal talk. He would simply shift the talk suddenly and surprisingly. For instance, you might ask him how he became interested in sports, and he might begin by talking about his childhood. They called him “Games” back then because he was always inventing some new sport with a ball, a wall, chalk lines, concrete steps, whatever. He was the son of H.L. Hunt, the oil magnate, a billionaire in a time when there were only a handful of billionaires in the world.
So you might ask Hunt then whether those little games were a way for him to escape that soap-opera world of Texas oil. This would spur Hunt to talk about -- kneeling quarterbacks.
“I don’t think quarterbacks should be allowed to kneel at the end of games,” he would say. It would be a bit stunning because the conversation had not gradually turned to this point — nobody had said one word about quarterbacks or kneeling or even football. But Hunt would just keep talking about kneeling quarterbacks like it was the most natural thing in the world. He would say teams should not be allowed to just run out the last 2 minutes of a game.
“No other sport allows you to just hold on to the ball like that,” he would say. “In basketball, they have the 10-second rule and a shot clock, plus they are allowed to foul you. In baseball, you still have to keep pitching the ball. In soccer, you can try to keep the ball away, but it takes great skill to do that. But in football, we allow our quarterbacks to just fall to one knee to run out the clock, and I don’t think that’s good for the sport.”
He would then offer up a series of potential rule changes — he could go on like this for quite a while. And by the time he finished, you had forgotten what you were asking about Hunt’s life, which was probably the point all along.
An e-mail story: A man was killed in a motorcycle accident; he was working at the time for Lamar Hunt’s construction company. The accident had nothing in particular to do with the construction job, but Hunt’s personal secretary went to the home of the widow and gave her a book of blank checks, each signed by Lamar Hunt.
A week later, the secretary returned with a message from Hunt: “Please don’t use these checks to pay for $10 items or small amounts. Please use them for what you really need.”
Lamar Hunt loved playing around with numbers. He would take scraps of paper and scribble for hours. One time, he figured up some statistic to show what a 1,500-yard running back might do for the Chiefs. Another time, he totaled up the number of times he saw Michael Jordan play live.
“I believe it’s 108,” he said, this was in 1997, a few months before Jordan retired for the second time. Hunt was an original partner in the Chicago Bulls, and watching Jordan play was one of the sporting thrills of his life, along with seeing the World Cup for the first time, watching Rod Laver hit forehands, being there in Atlanta when Michael Johnson ran his famous 19.32 in the 200-meter dash and, of course, seeing Otis Taylor break free in Super Bowl IV. The beauty and adventure of sports moved him much more than winning and losing. That’s what defined him as an owner and a sportsman.
“You know I’ve never met Michael Jordan,” he said suddenly, as if he only just realized that. “And I don’t think I ever will.” When asked why, he said the words that I still believe cut closest to the heart of the man. “Sometimes,” he said, “beauty is best appreciated from afar.”
Lamar Hunt would sit absolutely still during games. He would not cheer during touchdowns or boo after interceptions. His wife, Norma, used to tear a referee doll limb from limb after questionable calls, but even then Lamar would not change expressions.
“I suppose I’m a pretty patient man,” he said once, talking about the Chiefs. “It’s a vice. I tend to let things play out. I want to see what will happen.”
It was that patience (and quite a bit of money) that helped him through the early salad years of the American Football League. It was that patience that kept him believing, until the last days of his life, that professional soccer would find its place in American sports. It was that patience that kept him hoping — every year for the last 36 years — that his Chiefs would make it back to the Super Bowl. Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson said Hunt never said no to any move — no matter the cost — that might make the team better.
Yes, some wanted him to be more forceful, shake destiny a bit, fire decision-makers more quickly, spend money with more abandon. But that just was not Lamar Hunt.
“Bad luck,” he would say to Peterson after losses.
Lamar Hunt named the Super Bowl after his daughter’s Super Ball and spent $2.5 million for one gigantic painting called “Icebergs.” He tried to start a professional bowling league, and he did help start professional tennis (he’s in the International Tennis Hall of Fame). He put a bid on Alcatraz Island (he wanted to turn it into a shopping center and space museum). He built amusement parks. He never gave up on his dream for a rolling roof that could cover both Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums. He claimed for many years to own just one suit because he said one was all a man needed. His name was in the Dallas phonebook until the day he died.
“There are those who would say I never quite grew up, “ he said. “And I suppose they’re right.”
When I called Lamar Hunt back that day, he again asked whether my daughter was all right. I assured him that this was just a checkup, she was fine, she got a lollipop on her way out, and he said that was good. “Health is so important, “ he said. Hunt was already sick by then. He still thought he could beat the cancer.
We talked for a little while about Kansas City — Hunt remembered in the mid-1960s, when Charlie Finley, owner of the Kansas City A’s, asked whether Hunt would move the Chiefs to Atlanta so they could be a package deal. “This is a (lousy) town, “ Finley said, only he didn’t use the word “lousy,” which is why it is in parentheses. He used a much harsher word, one not fit for print, and one Hunt says with a slew of apologies.
“Charlie could be a crass man,” Hunt said.
He did not move the team, of course, because he thought there was something real and admirable about Kansas City. He did not move the team in the 1970s and ’80s either, even though the team was lousy and the seats at Arrowhead were half empty, and things just didn’t seem to be working out. Then in the 1990s, when the Chiefs started making the playoffs and every seat was filled with someone wearing red, he would sit in his owner’s box and look around in wonder.
“Kansas City is really a wonderful place,” he said. “It amazes me how things happen. One of the blessings of my life was moving the Texans to Kansas City.” Then, perhaps because he thought the conversation was turning too personal, he asked whether I thought baseball would be better if there was a pitch clock that forced the pitcher to throw the ball within, say, 20 seconds of when he got the ball back from the catcher. It was just another odd Lamar Hunt turn, but by then I had grown used to them. I said that a clock like that might do more harm than good — it might ruin the pace of the game.
“You could be right, “ he said. “Baseball does have a nice easy pace. Like life.”
“Not your life, “ I said.
“No,” he said, and he laughed. “Not mine. I’ve always managed to get into something, haven’t I?” The conversation ended shortly after that. Every single time I saw Lamar Hunt after that — until he was no longer well enough to come to Chiefs games — he always asked how my oldest daughter was doing.
Hunt helped open door
Published on Dec. 15, 2006 in The Kansas City Star
By Jason Whitlock
In the confines of this space, there’s no way to detail all the reasons we owe Lamar Hunt thanks. I’ll try to detail just one, the one that means the most to me.
Lamar Hunt knocked down doors for black football players. He was a different kind of Branch Rickey. Without Hunt and his idea of a rebel professional football league, the NFL may never have embraced the idea of a Mike Singletary at middle linebacker, a Warren Moon at quarterback, a Herm Edwards as head coach and a mediocre MAC football player as a brash-talking sports columnist.
Yeah, Lamar Hunt’s influence as an equal-opportunity-maker runs deep.
“I tell guys all the time that the best thing that ever happened to black football players is Lamar Hunt starting the AFL,” former Chiefs great Bobby Bell said. “It opened things wide open for black players. Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego and Houston, they all had black players. Lamar didn’t care whether you were black or green. He liked good players.”
Hunt, 74 and the owner of the Chiefs, passed away Wednesday evening from complications of prostate cancer. In his lifetime, he accomplished many great things, including giving the Super Bowl its name. I’ll remember Hunt for seeing the value in black players, befriending those players, recognizing their full humanity and giving them an opportunity to excel off the field, too.
“Lamar was one of my dearest friends,” said Bell, who played linebacker for the Super Bowl Chiefs. “This guy was so personable. I got letters from him all the time, handwritten letters. I called him at the hospital after Thanksgiving, and I never even told him my name. He was like, ‘Hey, I’m going downstairs to work on my long-snapping.’ I used to long-snap. He knew who I was just by the sound of my voice, and he was joking and apologizing for not being here when I turned on the lights at the Plaza. He was apologizing to me. That’s the kind of guy Lamar was.”
Lamar was the kind of guy who started eight black players on his defense in the 1960s — when some NFL teams didn’t have eight black players on their entire roster.
“You didn’t see that in college, and I think we were the only ones doing that in professional football,” Willie Lanier said.
Yeah, Lamar was the kind of guy who started Lanier at middle linebacker, too.
“That was a big deal then,” Bell said, “because back then a black guy wasn’t supposed to call signals for the defense. That was like playing quarterback. We weren’t supposed to do that.”
And Lanier probably wasn’t supposed to be KC’s middle linebacker. He and Jim Lynch were both selected in the second round of the draft. Lynch, an All-American from Notre Dame, was the 47th pick. Lanier, from tiny, all-black Morgan State, was the 50th pick.
“I give Mr. Hunt and coach Stram credit for creating a true level playing field and letting Jim and I compete for the position,” Lanier said Thursday. “It was interesting to see an organization that was just concerned with winning and not worried about who came from which university with all of the awards.”
After suffering a head injury in his rookie season, Lanier won the middle-linebacker job in 1968 and put together a Hall of Fame career. Lynch was moved to outside linebacker.
Hunt, Hank Stram and trusted scout Lloyd Wells specialized in scouting players from historically black colleges and signing them to the Chiefs. Lanier, Otis Taylor and Buck Buchanan all hailed from HBCs.
Hunt’s AFL quickly caught up to the NFL because of the junior league’s embrace of black players. It was a wise business move, and a move that allows players such as Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Ray Lewis, Steve McNair and countless other players to earn millions of dollars playing positions that used to be reserved for whites.
I just hope players around the league recognize the debt owed to Hunt. He opened doors. He was a pioneer. He facilitated black progress.
It’s no surprise that Herm Edwards is the head coach here. Hunt and Carl Peterson planted the coaching seeds in Edwards, enrolling him in the league’s minority development program after his playing career.
Edwards blossomed as an assistant coach in Tampa. He had a strong five-year run in New York as a head coach, and then Hunt and Peterson treated Edwards like family when things in New York turned sour.
Herm paid his dues, played the game, and Hunt and Peterson let him in the club. That’s the way the system is supposed to work when people remove their prejudices.
I can’t help but respect and appreciate that about Mr. Hunt. He seemed to see limitless potential in everyone, and his outlook served him well. He will be missed and remembered.
Chiefs’ founder, AFL pioneer dies; Sports visionary was an innovative businessman who turned daydreams into reality and transformed the face of pro football.
Published on Dec. 14, 2006 in The Kansas City Star
By Randy Covitz and Kent Pulliam
Lamar Hunt was a sportsman. A visionary. An entrepreneur. A gentleman. And a bit of a rebel.
Hunt, founder of the Kansas City Chiefs and one of America’s most innovative and creative sports figures of the past half-century, died about 9:40 p.m. Wednesday at a Dallas hospital of complications from prostate cancer. He was 74.
Hunt’s decision to relocate the Dallas Texans of the fledgling and struggling American Football League and rename them the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963 helped establish the region as a major-league community and ensured big-time sports would continue here for generations to come.
His belief in Kansas City was rewarded by the club’s appearance in two of the first four Super Bowls, with the Chiefs winning the NFL championship in 1970.
“He changed our way of life,” said civic booster Bill Grigsby, a member of the Chiefs broadcast team since their arrival. “Despite the fact it was tough going in the beginning, he hung in there and has done so much for Kansas City.
“He has given the people here something to hang on to and enjoy. Our life would not be the same without that man.”
Hunt was stricken with prostate cancer in September 1998 and underwent a series of chemotherapy treatments. In October 2003 he had surgery to remove the prostate gland.
“We are very grateful for the thoughts and prayers we have received over the last few weeks and we ask that our privacy be respected in this difficult time,” said Clark Hunt, one of Lamar Hunt’s four children and Chiefs chairman of the board.
“Information on memorial services will be forthcoming. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials be made to the Dallas Museum of Art and the Heart of a Champion Foundation.”
Hunt was one of the creators of the AFL in 1959 and was a principal negotiator in the merger of the AFL and NFL in 1966. He was credited with coining the term “Super Bowl” for what’s turned out to be the country’s most-watched sporting event, with the name coming from his children’s toy “Super Ball.”
Hunt also was a driving force in the creation of the Truman Sports Complex. The twin-stadium idea of Arrowhead Stadium, completed in 1972, and Royals Stadium in 1973 was years ahead of its time and later replicated by other cities. Hunt, in concert with the Royals, spearheaded a public initiative during 2006 in which Jackson County taxpayers approved a 3/8 -cent sales tax to help raise $575 million for renovations of Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums that will begin in 2007.
However, he was disappointed in the failure of a second initiative of $202 million that would have financed a rolling roof and fulfilled Hunt’s dream of nearly 40 years ago, when the stadium complex was designed, of bringing a Super Bowl to Kansas City.
“I would hope the dream of the rolling roof and the Super Bowl for Kansas City can be kept alive,” Hunt said at the time.
Fred Arbanas, a Chiefs Hall of Fame tight end and now a Jackson County legislator, not only played nine seasons for Hunt, but also worked with him on pushing through the stadium renovations and said Hunt never lost his humble nature.
“He was a real gentleman and a tribute to the game,” Arbanas said. “A lot of owners have been boisterous and arrogant. You never saw Lamar that way. All the trips we took on airplanes, Lamar would be helping serve food to the players, bringing them drinks and picking up the trash. He just pitched in. ...
“He’s not going to be forgotten. He’s done too much for this community. The community has put out a lot of money for his football team, too, but he also took a big chance and spent a lot of money in this community.”
Hunt not only made Arrowhead Stadium a showplace for NFL games, but also was at the forefront in bringing big-time college football to Kansas City. Arrowhead has been the site for 16 college games since 1972, including four Big 12 Conference championship games and several interconference matchups such as Kansas State-California and Florida State-Iowa State.
“In so many ways, Lamar Hunt made our city major league,” said Kevin Gray, president of the Kansas City Sports Commission. “He took a gamble in bringing his team to Kansas City, and the overwhelming admiration that people have for him is remarkable.
“We take many things for granted, and we have been so blessed to have not only the finest owner in professional sports, but unquestionably one of the classiest individuals I have ever had the pleasure to know in this business.”
Clark Hunt, 41, will oversee the family’s sports interests.
Although Hunt never lived in Kansas City, he contributed significantly to the area’s economy. Hunt, as chairman of Dallas-based Unity Hunt Inc., a large, diversified private company, also owned Hunt Midwest Enterprises, located within an underground business complex in Kansas City.
Hunt Midwest Enterprises developed two multimillion-dollar recreational theme parks in Kansas City: Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun. Both parks were sold in 1995. Hunt Midwest also is the key corporation in the development of the Kansas City International Foreign Trade Zone and owns a limestone rock mining company.
“He was not just a Dallas Texan,” Grigsby said. “He’s a Kansas Citian. He left his legacy here.”
Hunt, born in El Dorado, Ark., at one time was one of the world’s richest men. His fortune, inherited from his father, H.L. Hunt, had its foundation in the oil business.
But unlike some who inherit wealth, Hunt carved out his own niche. He became one of the world’s true sportsmen, changing the face of three professional sports in America through his founding of the American Football League in 1959, forming World Championship Tennis in 1967 and serving as a charter owner-operator of Major League Soccer in 1996.
Hunt was actively involved in the ongoing attempt to establish soccer as an American sport. He owned, and occasionally served as assistant coach of, the Dallas Tornado in the ill-fated North American Soccer League. His family oversaw the operations of three franchises in Major League Soccer, the Kansas City Wizards, FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew. The Dallas and Columbus franchises play in two of the country’s pre-eminent soccer-specific facilities built by Hunt Sports Group.
The Wizards won the MLS championship in 2000. The Hunt family sold the club to Kansas City interests in August.
Hunt also was a minority owner of the Chicago Bulls, two minor-league baseball teams in Dallas and Fort Worth, and at one time sought to purchase the Washington Senators baseball team and move them to Dallas. Later he made an offer for the Kansas City Royals.
But it was professional football where Hunt made his most lasting mark.
Hunt, whose childhood nickname was “Games” because he loved to invent contests, tried for several years in the late 1950s to purchase an NFL franchise. Like most young sports enthusiasts, the young Hunt pored over baseball box scores and football summaries. But unlike others, Games was fascinated not by home runs and touchdown passes but by the attendance figures.
“It was impressive to see 60,000 people had paid to see an event,” Hunt once said. “I always thought it would be a major challenge to maximize attendance. I always thought that if I had any skills in business, it was understanding how to sell tickets.”
For several years in the late 1950s, Hunt, a one-time backup end at Southern Methodist University, tried to purchase an NFL franchise to play in his hometown of Dallas and in his beloved Cotton Bowl.
But he was rebuffed on every front by the 12-team National Football League, including the Chicago Cardinals, who moved to St. Louis in 1960.
So Hunt decided to form his own league in late 1959. It changed the face of professional football.
Hunt and another Texas oilman, K.S. “Bud” Adams, who also failed in his attempts to purchase the Cardinals for Houston, met for the first time in 1959 and discussed their frustrations in trying to bring pro football to Texas.
“Lamar called and asked if he could come to Houston to have dinner with me, so I invited him down,” Adams said in a 2003 interview. “We talked for hours. We talked about the NFL not being interested in expansion.
“It wasn’t until I drove him back to Hobby Airport and, just as he was getting out of the car, he said, ‘Bud, I’m thinking about starting a new league. Are you interested in joining me?’ I said, ‘Hell, yeah.’”
On Aug. 3, 1959, Hunt and Adams held a news conference in Adams’ office in Houston to announce the formation of the American Football League. The first two franchises were the Dallas Texans and the Houston Oilers.
“I wanted to buy an NFL team real bad,” Hunt once said. “When I couldn’t get one, I started coming up with all kinds of ideas. I was on a flight one day when a light bulb came on. I realized there were a lot of people who had tried to buy the Cardinals, and if they were interested in moving the Cardinals to their cities, maybe they’d all be interested in forming a new league. At that point, I changed my whole focus.
“First, I went after Bud. I felt that it was very important to have a Dallas and Houston rivalry. They were probably the two ripest cities in America that didn’t have teams.”
On Aug. 15, 1959, the AFL announced four other franchises would be situated in Los Angeles, New York, Denver and Minneapolis. Though Minneapolis backed out when promised an NFL franchise for 1961, the AFL added Buffalo and Oakland.
The original owners, dubbed “The Foolish Club, “ put up $25,000 apiece and the league played its first season in 1960. Adams and Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson are the only survivors of “The Foolish Club.”
The established NFL soon retaliated by granting an expansion franchise to Dallas to compete with Hunt’s Dallas Texans.
It was during this time that Hunt’s sense of sportsmanship and fair play were firmly cemented. Hunt was offered several opportunities to purchase an NFL franchise, including a share of the expansion Dallas Cowboys by owner Clint Murchison. But Hunt would not abandon his seven partners in the AFL.
John Madden, who went on to a Hall of Fame career as a coach of the Chiefs’ archrival, the Oakland Raiders, expressed a debt of gratitude for Hunt’s efforts.
“I got my first coaching opportunity in the American Football League, and I know if it weren’t for Lamar Hunt there wouldn’t have been an American Football League,” said Madden, now a network television analyst. “Every time I ever saw him, I thanked him. Even when I was coaching the Raiders and we played the Chiefs or at a league meeting, I always thanked Lamar for what he did.
“When I knew the AFL was going to make it was after the first year of the AFL, and someone went up to Lamar’s dad, H.L Hunt, and said, ‘Your son, with this new league, has lost $1 million, ’ and Lamar’s dad said, ‘Well, at that rate, he can only go another 100 years.’ That statement by Lamar Hunt’s dad said this AFL isn’t going to go away. That’s when the NFL realized that.
“Everyone who played or coached in the AFL and went on from there is indebted to Lamar Hunt. There are owners and there are top guys, and Lamar Hunt was a top guy.”
Hunt’s Texans shared Dallas with the Cowboys. But after three seasons -- including an AFL championship in 1962 -- it was apparent that Dallas couldn’t support two teams. Hunt investigated opportunities to move his team to several cities, including Miami, Seattle and New Orleans. Hunt wanted to find a city to which he could commute easily from Dallas, and when he was unable to secure Tulane Stadium because the university didn’t want its football program to compete with a pro team, he turned to Kansas City, where Mayor H. Roe Bartle persuaded him to move to the Midwest.
It was a negotiation conducted in secrecy. On several occasions Hunt and Jack Steadman, the team’s general manager, were in Kansas City and met with businessmen. Bartle introduced Hunt as “Mr. Lamar” in all the meetings with other Kansas City businessmen. Steadman was introduced as “Jack X.”
“I told the mayor that any leak would blow the whole thing,” Hunt said.
The move to Kansas City was cemented after a season-ticket drive sold 13,025 tickets. Hunt moved the club May 21, 1963.
Hunt, with a roster replete with players who had played college football in Texas, wanted to maintain a lineage to the team’s roots and wanted to call the club the Kansas City Texans.
“The Lakers stayed the Lakers when they moved from Minnesota to California,” he reasoned. “But Jack Steadman convinced me that wasn’t too smart. It wouldn’t sell.”
The team was renamed Chiefs — one of the most popular suggestions Hunt received in a name-the-team contest, along with Kansas City Mules — and began playing in Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium in 1963.
During the next three years Hunt was one of the main AFL negotiators with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Dallas Cowboys executive Tex Schramm in a deal that eventually led to a merger of the two leagues in 1966. That same year his Kansas City Chiefs won the AFL championship and played in the first professional football championship game between the two leagues. The Green Bay Packers defeated the Chiefs 35-10.
Four years later, the Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl IV and evened the record to 2-2 for the AFL and NFL before the merger was complete and interleague play began.
In 1972, he became the first “AFL man” elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. And in 1984, the league created the Lamar Hunt Trophy, which is presented annually to the American Football Conference champion.
Hunt also has been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, United States Soccer Hall of Fame, the state sports hall of fames in both Missouri and Texas and the Texas Business Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Kansas City Business Hall of Fame in 2004.
A lesser-known side of Hunt is that he developed a taste for collecting fine art, especially by American artists. A favorite was Thomas Moran, a landscape artist. He personally studied each purchase before buying it, learning its history and the components of its values. Some of the paintings are in his home in Dallas, others in his apartment at Arrowhead Stadium. Some are on loan to museums in Dallas.
On Oct. 25, 1979, Hunt paid $2.5 million for a landscape painting by American artist Frederick Edwin Church called “Icebergs.” At that time it was the highest price ever paid for an American painting sold at auction. However, when Hunt got the painting home, he discovered that the painting was 9 feet by 5 feet — too large for the wall of his home. It was displayed at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, on loan.
He also was a man of simple pleasures. He was an inveterate jogger -- though in the 1990s he more frequently indulged in power walking. But he and his wife Norma were familiar figures on the roadways of the Truman Sports Complex when they stayed overnight in Kansas City.
He had a weakness for ice cream sodas, satisfying a sweet tooth wherever he went. A refreshment booth at Worlds of Fun that serves lemonade is called “Lamar’s Libations” in his honor.
He also puttered around in the 11-acre yard of his Dallas home, trimming shrubs and pruning trees into the shapes of bears and elephants. Hunt told reporters that trimming the shrubs offered him some of his most peaceful moments.
Although he was worth millions, Hunt frequently carried very little money. On one trip to a Canadian city to attend a WCT match with reporters from the Kansas City area, Hunt chose to stop at a roadside eatery and treat the group. After ordering, however, he remembered he had no money and had to borrow money from the public relations director of the Chiefs.
Hunt was always self-effacing. Despite his accomplishments, his acceptance speech upon his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972 was laced with his typical modesty.
“No one has ever benefited more from association with other men than I have,” Hunt once said. “From my father I received the basic desire to invest and to build in business. My wife and children have had the patience to serve as a sounding board for me and listen to my ideas. I have had the help of the personnel of the Chiefs -- the front office, the coaching staff and the players.”
That remained true throughout his life.
He was a longtime proponent of a two-point conversion in the NFL and of moving the kickoff spot back five yards. When the NFL finally passed those rule innovations, others took credit. Hunt shrugged it off, knowing his end goal had been reached of making the game better.
No Hunt legacy would be complete without mention of silver. But Lamar Hunt played only a minor part in that drama. During the late 1970s, Nelson Bunker Hunt and Herbert Hunt tried to corner the world silver market. Lamar did not get involved with his brothers until late in the deal, but when the bottom fell out of the silver market, all three lost significant amounts of money.
The trusts of the three brothers — left from their father H.L. Hunt — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Bunker and Herbert also personally filed for protection under Chapter 11.
Lamar did not file for personal bankruptcy, but did agree to pay $17 million to a state-operated mining company in Peru as his part of a settlement in a lawsuit against the Hunts.
Hunt was married twice. His son, Lamar Jr., and daughter, Sharron, are children of his first marriage. He married Norma Lynn Knobel, who was an American history teacher at Richardson High School near Dallas, on Jan. 22, 1964. They have two sons, Clark and Daniel. He has 13 grandchildren.
‘Soccer’s guardian angel’; Hunt was determined pro teams could catch on in the U.S., and his visions have materialized.
Published on Dec. 17, 2006 in The Kansas City Star
By Bob Luder
While Lamar Hunt might be known most as the man who founded the American Football League, he actually might have been more of a pioneer in this country in the sport of soccer.
After all, professional football in the way of the NFL had been in existence for decades when Hunt entered the scene and created his rival league (which later merged with the NFL and became the AFC) in the 1960s.
But there only existed small pockets of professional soccer in the U.S. when Hunt helped found the United Soccer Association and spearheaded its merger with the National Professional Soccer League in 1968.
That merger formed the North American Soccer League, which during its heyday in the 1970s thrived and filled stadiums like no league before or since, especially behind the best-known and most star-studded pro soccer team this country has ever known — the New York Cosmos.
The NASL folded in 1984, but Hunt wasn’t finished. He spearheaded the drive to bring the World Cup to the U.S. in 1994 and was a founding investor in Major League Soccer — with the Wizards being one of three league teams he owned, along with the Columbus Crew and Dallas Burn. The first-tier professional league continues to try to gain a foothold in the American sports market.
That involvement in the development in soccer has led to many accolades and appreciation for Hunt from others in the sport. So much so, in fact, that the longest-running soccer tournament in this country carries his name.
The winner of football’s AFC championship might take home the Lamar Hunt Trophy, but in soccer, every high-level team wants to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“As one of the founders of both the North American Soccer League and Major League Soccer, Lamar Hunt was a visionary,” said George Brown, president of the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y., which Hunt was inducted into in 1982. Andy Swift, former general manager of the Dallas Burn, once told The Dallas Morning News, “He has truly been soccer’s guardian angel over the last 30 years.”
Hunt’s interest in the game sprouted during the 1966 World Cup, which was the first World Cup televised widely in the U.S.
In fact, that World Cup stirred up a lot of interest in soccer throughout the country, and a group of investors, Hunt included, decided it was time this country had a first-division professional league.
Hunt became principal owner of the Dallas Tornado of the United Soccer Association in 1967. A year later, after the merger, it became a member of the NASL.
It wasn’t even a year after that where Hunt’s influence and enthusiasm came to full fruition and, in many ways, saved the NASL from early extinction.
The NASL underwent an ownership crisis in the winter of 1968-69, when the league suddenly lost 12 teams and shrank from 17 clubs to just five.
“In ’69, Lamar and a small group of owners recruited more investors of second-division teams and slowly rebuilt the league,” said Will Lunn, a former president of the National Hall of Fame. “Lamar shouldered much of the load. He would bring prospective investors to games in Dallas and foster their interest.”
Also in 1969, Hunt hired a new coach for the Tornado, a young Englishman by the name of Ron Newman who had arrived the season before as a player/assistant coach. Newman, a fellow U.S. hall of famer, won his first professional championship in the U.S. in ’71 with the Tornado, then went on to win 10 Major Indoor Soccer League championships with the San Diego Sockers.
Although Hunt eventually fired Newman in 1975, Newman had nothing but fond memories of his owner.
“(When I got fired), they told me they wanted to go out and get the best coach in the world,” Newman said. “I told them, ‘You just fired him.’
“After we won our fifth championship in San Diego, I got a note from Lamar that said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were the best coach in the world?’”
Hunt hired Newman for a second time as the first coach of the Wizards when MLS fired up in 1996. Unfortunately, after a losing ’98 season and half of ’99, Hunt fired Newman for a second time as well.
In 2000, with new head coach Bob Gansler, Hunt received his ultimate reward when one of his teams — the Wizards — won the MLS Cup championship.
Hunt made pro soccer history — again — by paving the way for construction of the first major-league stadium built specifically for soccer in the U.S. Columbus Crew Stadium opened May 15, 1999.
And plans are in the works for such a soccer-specific palace for the Wizards.
In December of 2004, Hunt announced his intentions of putting the team up for sale, citing his need to focus on getting Arrowhead Stadium renovated and the MLS goal of eventually having one ownership group per team.
He completed that sale back in August, turning the Wizards over to OnGoal LLC, a six-man local ownership group dedicated to keeping the franchise in the area.
In 1999, Hunt was awarded the National Soccer Medal of Honor. The U.S. Open Cup also was named in his honor that year.
“I think we’re just now seeing the fruition of some of his visions,” Lunn said. “Even though it’s taken two leagues to do it.”