Football

KC, we lost a very dear friend

I lost a friend Wednesday night.

Not the kind of friend you talk to every day. I hadn't spoken to Lamar Hunt in nearly 10 years. But a friend, nevertheless. You, Kansas City, lost a friend as well --- whether you realize it right now or not. See, it's been popular the last few years in this town to snipe at the man who changed the face of American sports some 40 years ago.

You're footing too much of the bill on stadium renovations at Arrowhead while the millionaire owner is rolling in dough. He cares only whether the stands --- and his pockets --- are filled, not whether there's a Super Bowl contender on the field. He has this silly rolling-roof idea and tries to sell it to you every few elections or so, trying to pick your pocket even further. He represents everything bad about the big business of sports because the NFL is the bully on the block.

Well, take a breath. Kansas City is a big-league sports town because of Lamar Hunt. The National Football League might have arrived eventually. But we didn't have to wait. When Hunt formed the American Football League, he brought professional football to places where the NFL had expressed no interest. He took a chance on Kansas City, and over the years having the Chiefs here has enriched our lives.Maybe baseball would have returned to Kansas City after Charlie Finley left anyway. Ewing Kauffman certainly was willing to step up. But it didn't hurt that baseball's owners could see how supportive sports fans in this city could be of successful teams after the Chiefs' 1966 AFL championship. And a new stadium on the horizon didn't hurt, either.The history will be recounted elsewhere in much greater detail. Here's the reason Kansas City lost a friend. Lamar Hunt --- whether you believe it or not, with escalating prices and the cost of stadium improvements --- was about the sport and the fans. In sports, a league is only as strong as its weakest team. Hunt's AFL pioneered the concept of revenue sharing. The NFL copied it two years later, making the merged league the most financially stable in all of sports. The Truman Sports Complex is better for the fans because there are sport-specific stadiums. Fans have a better view of the games, and Kansas City never suffered the misguided efforts of dual stadiums like those in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (which no longer exist, by the way). Although she is showing her age in many areas, Arrowhead remains the only stadium of its generation that even remotely resembles what she looked like on opening day more than 30 years ago. That is, in part, because Hunt made regular inspections and took meticulous notes of which toilet wasn't working. And it was fixed. Besides pro football, Hunt helped expose us to other big-time sports: World Championship Tennis, the North American Soccer League, Major League Soccer, exhibition games of the U.S. women's soccer team, and college football. Hunt attended most of the games, just as a fan would. He enjoyed them, just as a fan would. Whether another owner would have done the same thing ... it's possible. Lamar Hunt did do those things. And that's why, Kansas City, we all lost a friend. Not just a friend. A very good friend.

To reach Kent Pulliam, Star sports wire editor and former Chiefs beat reporter, call (816) 234-4370 or send e-mail to kpulliam@kcstar.com.
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