Of all the Chiefs’ memorabilia Jack Steadman kept on display in the basement of his Mission Hills home, nothing personified how enmeshed he was in the existence of the franchise here — and in establishing the team’s nickname — than a full Native American headdress.
The gift for Steadman, who died Sunday at 86, was from former Kansas City mayor H. Roe Bartle, known as “Chief” for his dedicated work with the Tribe-of-Mic-O-Say honor society of the Boy Scouts of America.
Because it harkened to so much, it was among the keepsakes Steadman wanted most to speak of during a 2013 visit to his house, 50 years after Bartle and Lamar Hunt executed what proved to be a monumental deal to move the Dallas Texans of the AFL to Kansas City.
Hunt may well on his own have come to the conclusion that Kansas City was the right site for his team, which like its fledgling NFL competitor, the Dallas Cowboys, was struggling to gain traction and attendance.
But including his undercover role as “Jack X, government investigator,” the move at every stage was precipitated by the work and counsel of the steadfast Steadman, who was in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease and died from what the family called natural causes.
Simply put, the Chiefs may well never have come here without Steadman’s voice in the process.
His diverse legacy includes a principal role in the construction of the Truman Sports Complex, innovative at the time for featuring separate stadiums for football and baseball.
As chairman of Hunt Midwest, he helped Hunt develop Worlds of Fun.
Steadman’s influence also extended deeply into the community, serving as Chairman of the Heart of America United Way and president of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City; president of the Kansas City unit of the American Cancer Society and on the boards of directors of the Civic Council, the American Royal Association, and Starlight Theatre. In 1988, he was selected by the Chamber of Commerce as the Kansas Citian of the Year.
But all of this followed from his sway with Hunt in moving the Chiefs here.
It was Steadman, a former accountant for Hunt Oil Co. and Texans’ general manager, who in 1962 wrote Hunt a memo that Hunt came to obsess over.
His words likely were the initial catalyst for the move that proved pivotal both for the franchise and the eventual AFL-NFL merger.
“I know you do not want to leave Dallas, nor do I,” wrote Steadman, according to “Lamar Hunt: A Life In Sports,” a biography by Michael MacCambridge. “But the Cowboys have the NFL behind them … You are the founder of the AFL, and you need to have a successful franchise and continue as the leader for the league.
“Dallas is not big enough to support two pro football teams. … We need to find a city that wants us and where we can build our operations without local competition.”
And it was Steadman whose voice was imperative in keeping that city from being New Orleans, as Hunt seemed to be leaning towards.
In the fall of 1962 at Steadman’s house in Texas, Hunt and Steadman met with insurance salesman David Dixon, who was trying to play a middle-man role in luring the Texans to New Orleans.
As Steadman recalled in 2013, Hunt didn’t balk that the plan called for the then-Texans initially to play in a high school stadium and that Dixon was asking for 25 percent.
“Lamar was such a visionary … He had an idea a minute,” Steadman said.
Trouble was …
“Lamar just never felt that anybody would take advantage of him,” he said, “and I knew differently because I had seen people get taken advantage of when (others) don’t have any money and they go after the person who has the money.”
So Steadman “piped up,” and when Dixon told him to mind his own business because the deal was between “Lamar and me,” Steadman said, “No. This is between Lamar and me and you, and we’re going to decide what to do.”
Then, Steadman said, “Roe Bartle called.”
That set in motion events that changed the landscape of Kansas City, both in terms of sporting image and the broader identity conferred by the NFL.
Some major elements of the move immediately seemed to be in place, from an appealing lease plan at Municipal Stadium to Bartle making available his $750,000 budget for bringing new businesses to Kansas City.
But plenty remained to be navigated behind the scenes, too.
So Steadman was sent undercover for weeks to Kansas City, where he stayed at the Muehlebach Hotel and was introduced around town by Bartle as “Jack X, government investigator.”
“Even my secretary didn’t know where I was,” Steadman said, laughing.
Even after the move was negotiated and announced, another detail remained for Steadman to tend to: Hunt and coach Hank Stram wanted to call the team the Kansas City Texans.
“That was not going to work,” Steadman said. “So finally I convinced Lamar that it wasn’t going to work, and we decided to have a naming contest.”
The “Rename the Dallas Texans Contest,” co-sponsored by The Star, drew 4,866 responses and 1,020 different nicknames from 21 states.
“Mules” was the winner in terms of numbers, with 272 submissions, and “Royals” was second with 269.
There were 42 submissions of Chiefs, and the contest winner would prove to be Everett L. Diemler, who won a Chrysler Valiant by virtue of a tiebreaker.
But the contest apparently was only a smoke-screen.
“That came down to me, because I told Lamar, `We’ve got to name this thing after Roe Bartle,’ “ Steadman said. “We’ve got to name it ‘`Chiefs.’ “
As the top executive for the Chiefs, Steadman oversaw three AFL championships and a Super Bowl victory, assisted Hunt in creating the merger and emerged as a new breed of NFL executive whose expertise in financial matters was revolutionary.
He also presided over a downturn in the franchise in the 1970s and 1980s, including a 14-year period in which the Chiefs fired five coaches and he became the object of fan dissent.
The club made the playoffs just once from 1972-1989, and Arrowhead was half-empty for most games.
“I have to be as responsible as anybody for that,” Steadman said in a 2005 interview.
In December 1988, Steadman stepped aside for Carl Peterson, moving up to Chairman of the Board but no longer was involved in the day-to-day operations of the team.
But the very fact those operations are here at all is in many ways Steadman’s enduring gift to Kansas City.
“While today we are saddened by his passing,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said in a statement, “his contributions to the Chiefs, the Kansas City community and my family will never be forgotten. “
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com