In a parallel universe, the Dallas Texans of the American Football League stayed put and went defunct competing with the Dallas Cowboys. Or they bolted to New Orleans, where owner Lamar Hunt saw fertile ground and seemed inclined to move his franchise had he not been persuaded otherwise.
Instead, 50 years ago Thursday, the Texans ditched Dallas and morphed into the Kansas City Chiefs, now an incalculably valuable icon of the city, as synonymous with the landscape as barbecue, the Country Club Plaza and jazz.
“As it turned out,” said Jack Steadman, then the team’s general manager, “it was the smartest decision that Lamar could have made.”
But it took a few indulgences of fate, some skullduggery and larger-than-life personalities to make this essential element of Kansas City come to be and make a prophet of then-Mayor H. Roe Bartle.
“You have really put the capstone on the athletic world insofar as Kansas City is concerned,” Bartle wrote to “my dear friend Lamar” on June 14, 1963.
Steadman, now 85 and living in Mission Hills, reminisced Friday about an era well before the explosion of the game’s popularity. Even as the Texans moved in on the 1962 AFL championship, he said, it was apparent that the dynamics of having two fledgling professional football teams in the same city never would be reconciled.
That season, the Cowboys and Texans each were averaging an announced attendance of about 10,000, likely stunted in part because of the advent of televised sports combined with the competition.
“If we were playing in the Cotton Bowl on a Sunday, the Cowboys were televising against us,” he said. “Then we’d turn around and do the next Sunday: They’d play (at home), and so we’d TV against them.
“It just wasn’t working. It was not going to work.”
Beyond the estimated $1.5 million Hunt had lost in the first three years of his enterprise loomed another key financial complication: the so-called “Hobby Law.”
After five years of taking enormous losses, the Internal Revenue Service at the time could have deemed Hunt’s football operation a hobby, not a business, thus ending his ability to write off the damage and potentially leaving him subject to paying back taxes.
“He was losing too much money, and yes, there was going to be a hobby problem,” Steadman said.
With all that in mind, Steadman said, “We decided we needed to find a city (where) we could control our destiny. And that turned out to be Kansas City.”
But not before Hunt and Steadman entertained a fall 1962 visit at Steadman’s house from insurance salesman David Dixon, seeking to play a middle-man role in luring the Texans to New Orleans.
Dixon laid out a plan that included initially having the team play in a high school stadium, but Hunt was not dissuaded, Steadman recalled.
Even when Steadman asked Dixon, “Where do you fit into all this?” and Dixon said, “I only want a share of 25 percent,” Hunt didn’t flinch.
Steadman “piped up” then, telling Hunt that it would be inappropriate to make that concession and that at the very least they’d need to talk about it privately before going forward.
Dixon fumed, Steadman said, telling him, “Get out of here. Mind your own business. This is between Lamar and me.”
No, Steadman said, “This is between Lamar and me and you, and we’re going to decide what to do.”
And so they did, with Steadman further making the case that if they were to move, they’d want to do their own direct negotiating with a city.
“We are the ones who need to meet with the mayor and work with the mayor; you can’t have somebody else do that for you,” Steadman recalled telling Hunt.
Then, he added, “Roe Bartle called.”
According to “Lamar,” the recently released biography of Hunt by Michael MacCambridge, Bartle earlier that fall had flown to Dallas to seek an audience with Hunt after learning Hunt had visited Atlanta “with an eye to moving the franchise.”
At the time, Hunt rebuffed Bartle but said he’d keep it in mind.
So Bartle followed up, leaving a phone message for Hunt after the Texans’ double-overtime victory over the Houston Oilers in the 1962 AFL championship game.
The charismatic Bartle persuaded Hunt and Steadman to visit days later, and the welcoming seeds of the move were planted — despite Hunt and Steadman being yelled at by legendary groundskeeper George Toma when they walked without permission on the field at Municipal Stadium.
They were soon back with specific notions of what could make the move viable. Among the major points: funding for a headquarters and training site, an attractive lease at Municipal Stadium (ultimately, it would be a seven-year deal at $1 for the first two years) and organizing a season-ticket drive that would be pivotal.
Still, the mind-set was an immediate inclination to make it work.
“I could just see so many positive things about having our own city,” said Steadman, who had been wowed when Bartle told them, “I have a budget for bringing new businesses to Kansas City of $750,000; I will make that available to you.”
But all such matters had yet to be finessed and put through proper channels without making the potential move public. So Steadman was planted incognito for weeks in Kansas City.
“Even my secretary didn’t know where I was,” said Steadman, laughing as he recalled Bartle introducing him as “Jack X, government investigator” if anyone wondered who he was.
In February 1963, the veil was lifted on the prospect of the move, to the dismay of many in Dallas, including the Texans’ players and coaches.
“Hank (Stram) went nuts, virtually,” Steadman recalled.
Still, there was the final hoop to leap through: Hunt announced the move wasn’t guaranteed unless Kansas City sold 25,000 season tickets between April 15 and May 15.
“I gave my word to Kansas City: If we sell the tickets, we will move there, no matter what happens,” Hunt said at a news conference Feb. 9, 1963, in Dallas.
And if Kansas City fell short?
“That would be a gray area,” he said. “Only time will tell what we will do in that situation.”
The city embraced the challenge. William Dauer, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, led the way in tandem with Ray Evans, the Traders National Bank president who had been a two-sport All-American at Kansas.
The drive kicked off with a visit by Hunt and an entourage of Texans staff and players, who were greeted April 15 at Municipal Airport by a small group that included Shawnee Mission East students holding a banner that read, “Welcome Home, K.C. Somethings.”
The total of 15,182 tickets sold by the start of the season became a then-AFL record. Perhaps more notably, 52 companies had bought at least 50 season tickets each. In three years in Dallas, only four companies had bought as many for a season.
Still, that was well short of the 25,000, and at the initial deadline the number was closer to 13,000.
But Hunt had seen enough of the “spirit” to believe he had “all the tangible evidence I need” to support the move. That was the impetus for The Star headline on May 22, 1963: “TEXANS WILL MOVE HERE.”
Only they couldn’t really be the Texans when they got here.
“Lamar and Hank, they wanted to call it the Kansas City Texans,” Steadman said, laughing and adding, “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.
The Mules ruled, with 272 submissions, and “Royals” was second with 269.
There were, as it happened, 42 submissions of Chiefs, and the contest winner would prove to be Everett L. Diemler, who won a Plymouth Valiant by virtue of the tie breaker. His guess of 10,711 season tickets sold by May 1 was just 97 below the actual.
As for how the name truly was determined?
On an internal memo on May 16, 1963, perhaps an unofficial finalist list, Steadman sought staff input on 10 ideas: Chiefs, Drovers, Mokans, Mules, Pioneers, Plainsmen, Royals, Stars, Stockers and Texans.
In an attached handwritten note to Hunt that was among numerous items furnished for this story by Chiefs historian Bob Moore, Steadman wrote, “I figured since the staff would be responsible for selling and working with our new name, they should vote for it. No pressure applied.”
At least three of the seven he sent came back checked “Royals.”
But Steadman was steadfast.
“I told Lamar, ‘We’ve got to name this thing after Roe Bartle,’” said Steadman, noting the nickname the mayor had acquired through his dedicated work with the Boy Scouts and in politics. “We’ve got to name it ‘Chiefs.’”
And so they were named on May 26, 1963, just weeks before the move itself that was one of the few details Steadman didn’t seem to totally recall.
“I think we were the moving company,” he said, laughing. “There wasn’t much.”
Recent hardships notwithstanding, now there is so much more: a franchise that might well have never arrived now entwined with the identity of a city.