Len Dawson, in a sharp suit worthy of a TV broadcasting veteran, posed the question as a sort of real-life “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
What if there were no Lamar Hunt? What would the NFL be like?
What would Kansas City be like?
“Think about it,” Dawson said. “No American Football League, no merger with the National Football League. No game called the Super Bowl. No Kansas City Chiefs. No Arrowhead Stadium.”
The question is pertinent, of course, as Kansas City continues to remember the life of Hunt, the longtime Chiefs owner, NFL Hall of Famer and beloved personality who died on Dec. 13. About 2,000 showed up Tuesday for a service honoring Hunt at the Community of Christ Auditorium.
The reminiscing is especially pertinent around the Chiefs now that the franchise has lost perhaps its two most accomplished and nationally known figures: Hunt and former coach Hank Stram, who died last year.
Together, they are the basis of the Chiefs’ existence and proud history. Hunt always preferred to be called the Chiefs’ founder rather than owner, and both titles fit. The founding occurred when Hunt moved the Dallas Texans to Kansas City in 1963 and changed the team’s name.
“Lamar Hunt became the face and image of Kansas City,” said Chiefs president/general manager Carl Peterson. “We who worked with him are honored to have known him.”
Hunt had been the loyal and caring and quiet force behind all of the Chiefs’ successes and the team’s dominance of the local sports scene.
One of his earliest moves that benefited the Chiefs came when the franchise was still the Texans and Hunt hired Stram as head coach. They knew each other from their days at SMU, when Hunt was a third-string end and Stram was an assistant coach.
Stram won three AFL championships and coached the Chiefs to what is the organization’s only Super Bowl title. He was innovative in creating the “moving pocket” and other nuances and became the first pro football coach to wear a microphone during a game in Super Bowl IV.
Many remember his famous quote from the Super Bowl: “Let’s matriculate the ball down the field, boys.” Stram oversaw the development of Hall of Famers such as Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier, Jan Stenerud and Dawson.
There were other Chiefs greats who established themselves under Stram, men such as Ed Budde and Otis Taylor, who are in the Chiefs Hall of Fame.
Together, Hunt and Stram helped the Chiefs to a level of success in the 1960s and 1970s that fans still talk of fawningly.
“This city is better because Lamar Hunt came this way,” said former Mayor Emanuel Cleaver, now a U.S. congressman. “In fact, I would dare say if Lamar Hunt had not come to this city, those of us who are connected here today and thousands of others across this metro area would not remotely know each other.”
In his speech on Tuesday, Dawson talked of how Stram once told him that “friends are angels in disguise.” The point was made that Hunt, and perhaps by extension, Stram, were angels for the Chiefs.
Cleaver talked about a trip to the Caribbean with his wife and how every evening, people flocked to the beach to watch the sun go down.
“After it disappeared, there was still light,” Cleaver said. “There was an afterglow. Lamar Hunt is gone. But there is still life. There is an afterglow. That afterglow will be there every time we hear the name Chiefs, or every time we drive down 435, we will remember how much Lamar Hunt made a difference.”
To reach Sam Mellinger, sports reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-4365 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org