Football

Reporter recalls: With Hunt, life was always interesting, upbeat

For someone whose family name smacked of wealth, Lamar Hunt simply never showed it. Literally. Lamar was a genuinely nice person, but he never carried cash with him.

I found that out first-hand one day back in the 1960s while walking through the Oakland airport after a Chiefs game against the Raiders. "Bill," Lamar said. "Could you lend me 50 cents so I can buy a milkshake?" I came up with the change as we approached a concession stand. Along came Jack Steadman, the Chiefs' general manager, and Lamar beckoned him to pay me back. So the loan didn't last long. Such stories about Hunt not having cash on hand are legendary. Somehow I never got around to asking him why. But it would have spoiled a good story of the trying-to-make-it-to-next-payday sportswriter lending money to one of the world's richest men. Hunt was probably most famous in sports for organizing the American Football League in 1959. Rebuked by the NFL for a franchise in his home base of Dallas, Hunt and seven other prospective owners began the AFL as a rival circuit in 1960. They became known as "The Foolish Club." The owners struggled to gain acceptance, but the Foolish Club had fun along the way. At a league meeting in Kansas City in the mid-'60s, the club executives decided to play a joke on San Diego coach/general manager Sid Gillman, who missed the meeting because of illness. They sent him a telegram that read: "The AFL board of directors wishes you a speedy recovery. The vote was 4-3.""And," Hunt chuckled, "with San Diego abstaining."Finally, the NFL owners had enough of skyrocketing bonuses and salaries to players and agreed to a merger.Chicago Bears owner and coach George Halas conceded by saying, "You can't kill the bankrolls of Lamar Hunt and (Houston owner) Bud Adams." Hunt had a longstanding relationship with Hank Stram, his coach with the original Dallas Texans and Kansas City Chiefs. It began when Stram was an assistant coach and Hunt was a reserve on the SMU football team. Stram later joked about the longtime security he enjoyed with Hunt. "It pays to be nice to your third-string end," Stram said. "You'll never know if someday he'll be your boss." Stram was the best man at Hunt's wedding and in January 1970 brought his owner the Chiefs' only Super Bowl championship. Hunt was an optimistic sort who always believed that the Chiefs had a chance to win every time they played. There was one notable exception. It came in an exhibition game against the Los Angeles Rams. The NFL had been hit by a players' strike, and most of the Chiefs regulars were latecomers to training camp. The Rams were loaded with veterans who walked in early, creating an obvious mismatch. Stram figured his veterans weren't ready to play, and he went with a team of rookies and assorted free agents who had little chance of making the squad. Hunt's pessimism was justified. The Rams routed the Chiefs 58-16 in the L.A. Coliseum. On the eve of the 1978 NFL opener in Cincinnati, Hunt met with the writers for dinner and asked them to jot down their predictions on the team's record that season. It wasn't a good outlook. Marv Levy's first Chiefs team went 4-12. Hunt, as usual, foresaw a brighter year, although he didn't disclose his own prediction.To Hunt's delight, the Chiefs upset Cincinnati in the opener. To which Hunt said, "It's always good to win that first game. That way, you can't go 0-16."Before a Chiefs exhibition game in Dallas in the early 1970s, Hunt invited the players and press to a cookout and tour of his palatial estate in the Dallas suburbs. Halfback Ed Podolak, noticing an enormous closet, remarked to linebacker Bob Stein, "Where are the hashmarks in here?" Hunt was a world traveler. He sent back postcards to our office from Victoria Falls in Africa and from snowy Austria. He loved being a tour guide for team followers on the charter trips around the league.On a flight into Buffalo, Hunt told us, "I've asked the pilot to circle the (Niagara) Falls." It was a great view and an exciting time, as it was with all of the years spent with Lamar Hunt.

Bill Richardson was a longtime Star reporter on the Kansas City Chiefs beat and covered their victory in Super Bowl IV.
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