Football

THEIR TAKES: Columnists around the country write about Lamar Hunt

PHILADELPHIA --- I've never much cared for rich people, particularly ones born with silver spoons in their mouths. I'm the son of a couple of factory grunts who worked too hard and died too young, and I tend to get a little nauseated around people with money. Particularly those who enjoy flaunting it.

Lamar Hunt never flaunted it. Despite the considerable difference in bank account balances, the Kansas City Chiefs' owner never acted like he was better than you. Mainly because he didn't think he was. "He was a real gentleman and a tribute to the game," said former Chiefs tight end Fred Arbanas. "A lot of owners have been boisterous and arrogant. You never saw Lamar that way. All the trips we took on airplanes, Lamar would be helping serve food to the players, bringing them drinks and picking up the trash. He just pitched in." Hunt, the son of a wealthy Texas oilman and a graduate of the Hill School in Pottstown, was a regular guy who just happened to have a lot of money and own a football team. I remember a long-time-ago Super Bowl shortly after Hunt had hired former Philadelphia Stars president Carl Peterson to be the Chiefs' general manager. Peterson pulled up at his hotel in a stretch limo, as did most of the league's owners and executives. Hunt? He and his wife, Norma, pulled up a few minutes after Peterson in a midsize rental from Hertz. About eight years ago, my wife and I sat next to the Hunts at a dinner party that former Stars owner Myles Tanenbaum hosted for Peterson before the Chiefs played the Eagles at the Vet. When we first saw the seating arrangement, we thought it was going to be a long night. I mean, what were we going to talk to them about for an hour and a half? Ended up being easier than chatting with the neighbors. "He was not one to flaunt it," said Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams, who was one of the eight original American Football League owners with Hunt. "He just did it." Yes, he did. When the NFL rebuffed his attempt to buy a franchise and move it to Dallas, he founded his own league, the AFL, in 1960. Six years later, he was instrumental in negotiating a merger between the AFL and NFL. "Everyone who played or coached in the AFL and went on from there is indebted to Lamar Hunt," said John Madden, who got his coaching start in the AFL. "There are owners, and there are top guys. Lamar Hunt was a top guy." Hunt, who came up with the name for the Super Bowl while watching his kids play with a SuperBall, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972. "He was the founder, the energy really, that put together half of the league," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "And then he was the key person in merging the two leagues together. You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody that's made a bigger contribution (to the NFL) than Lamar Hunt." And you'd be hard-pressed to find a nicer man.

--- Paul Domowitch, Philadelphia Daily News

DALLAS --- America has lost its last great sportsman. Lamar Hunt wasn't a rich guy who aspired to be a sportsman. He was a sportsman who happened to be rich. The choices the Dallas oilman made in life were always in the best interest of his sports, not his wallet. That set him apart from the new breed of franchise owners in America. Hunt didn't involve himself in sports for wealth or ego. His involvement was based on his love for the games, not a love of himself. It was always about the "sports," never about the "man." If Hunt was in it for the fame or fortune, he'd have become the owner of the NFL Cowboys in 1960. He also never would have involved himself in pro tennis, pro soccer or the NBA. But all four sports were enriched from his participation. Hunt wanted to bring pro football to his hometown of Dallas in the 1950s and was steered by the NFL to the Wolfner family, who owned the struggling Chicago Cardinals. But having been rebuffed twice by the Wolfners, Hunt decided to start his own league --- the AFL --- and recruited fellow millionaires Bud Adams, Barron Hilton, Ralph Wilson and three others to own the franchises. The NFL tried to short-circuit Hunt's plan by offering him an expansion team in Dallas in 1960. If Hunt was in it for his own ego, he'd have accepted that offer. This time, the mighty NFL was coming to him. What Hunt did next certainly wasn't in his own best interest, but rather the best interest of the fledgling AFL. He showed his integrity by turning down the NFL. "I had actively sought people for a new league," Hunt said. "I wasn't in a position to desert them." His Texans stayed in Dallas for three seasons, battling the Cowboys head-to-head for football fans. The Texans drew larger crowds than the Cowboys and won the state's first pro football championship in 1962. If it was about his ego, Hunt would have continued to fight the Cowboys for his home turf --- a fight he was capable of winning with his fortune and philosophy of signing the best players from the state. But again, he put aside his own ego and acted in the best interest of the AFL. Hunt moved the Texans to Kansas City, where they became the Chiefs in 1963. "It was a matter of economics," Hunt said. "We needed to have a successful league, so we needed eight teams that could succeed. We were not succeeding in Dallas. Neither were the Cowboys. It was kind of a standoff. "It was hard ... emotional. I was a Dallas resident since 1938. The whole basis of the American Football League plan was to have teams in Dallas and Houston as rivals, much like the NFL had the Rams and 49ers in California. "The move was difficult, but it was the right thing to do. What made it a lot easier was the fact that we sold enough season tickets that first year to get us into the black. It was something we needed to do." The rapid rise of the AFL forced a merger with the NFL that was negotiated by Hunt, Cowboys president Tex Schramm and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. Hunt was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972, and the AFC championship trophy has since been named after him. Hunt also started the first pro tennis league in the U.S., the World Championship Tennis circuit, in 1967. That year, Hunt created the United Soccer Association, which planted the seed for the other sport of football in this country. He owned the Dallas Tornado, which gave his hometown the North American Soccer League championship in 1971. Both leagues bled money for years, but Hunt continued to be a primary benefactor of the two sports. Both soccer and tennis have since taken root in this country as spectator sports. Hunt was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1982 and the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993. Hunt also was an original investor in the Chicago Bulls --- and when he died, he still owned 11 percent of the NBA franchise. He attended championship-clinching games in the 1990s, sitting in the stands. But he never went to the locker room afterward, and he never even met Michael Jordan. Hunt won championships in basketball, football and soccer. But the success of his teams was never about him. You never saw Hunt on the sideline at NFL games or in television views from his stadium suite. He stayed in the background, forcing the spotlight to focus on his teams, not himself. It was always about the sport, never about the man. Dallas, the NFL and the American sporting scene won't be the same without him.

--- Rick Gosselin, The Dallas Morning News


WASHINGTON --- The NFL is losing its titans, one by one. "Lamar Hunt was a founding father of modern professional sports," former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in a written statement released by the league. The NFL lost one titan last year when longtime New York Giants owner Wellington Mara died, and now it has lost another. When the owners gathered last week near Dallas, where Hunt lived, they knew his health was deteriorating. He'd been hospitalized for a partially collapsed lung, and doctors had found that his prostate cancer, diagnosed in 1998, had spread. Chiefs president Carl Peterson, who had visited Hunt during that trip, stood outside the meeting room in Frisco, Texas, and talked about what his boss meant to the sport. "I'm one of the most privileged executives to have worked for this man for 18 years," Peterson said. "He is, I think, the finest owner in all of professional sports. He calls once a week from Dallas and says, 'What are we doing, and how can I help?' We meet once a month during the season. Up until this season, in 17 years he'd missed one regular-season game. This year, unfortunately, he's missed five. He's a pillar and a founder in this league. ... He's always done what's best for the league first and for his franchise second." Hunt was the founder of the American Football League and was a key figure in its merger with the NFL in 1970. Peterson spoke last week of being told stories by Hunt about his clandestine meetings in a parked car at Love Field in Dallas with Tex Schramm, the late president and general manager of the Cowboys, to plot the merger. "He's probably the most unique person I've known," said San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, who formerly coached the Chiefs. "The best story that I can remember of him came after the AFC championship game in '94. (It was) January in Buffalo. We had played them in the regular season and beaten them easily, and then (Chiefs quarterback Joe) Montana got hurt. They beat us pretty well. The point differential wasn't as great as the one when we beat them earlier in the year. We get on the bus. I'm upset: 'Marty loses in the playoffs again.' "Lamar sits down in the seat in front of me, and after a few minutes he turns to me and says, 'They didn't beat us by as much as we beat them.' He's a very giving person and clearly one of the architects of the NFL as we know it today." This is a time of division among owners. Owners of large-market franchises and small-market teams battle bitterly over labor and revenue-sharing issues. Some from the old guard have grown resentful of the ways of the newcomers, while many newcomers scoff at the antiquated attitudes of the old-timers. But, new or old, the owners revered Hunt. They awarded a Super Bowl to Kansas City out of respect for Hunt, although that fell through when the Chiefs were unable to secure public funding for a rolling roof at Arrowhead Stadium. The owners awarded this season's Thanksgiving night game to the Chiefs because of Hunt. But he went into the hospital the day before Thanksgiving and was unable to watch the game because the hospital didn't get the NFL Network. He listened to the broadcast over the phone. At last week's meeting, the owners awarded $42.5 million from the league's stadium subsidy fund to the Chiefs to renovate Arrowhead. Hunt's legacy will endure in the NFL: The AFC championship trophy is named for him. And Hunt's 41-year-old son, Clark, remains the Chiefs' chairman of the board. "Everyone who follows professional football has lost a great friend in the passing of Lamar Hunt," said Bills owner Ralph Wilson, a fellow member of the old guard, in a written statement. "He was an unparalleled fighter battling a serious disease for 8 1/2 years. He was responsible for bringing the game to all parts of the United States. He was respectful and generous to everybody. I have tears in my eyes in expressing my condolences to (Hunt's wife) Norma and his family."

--- Mark Maske, The Washington Post

FORT WORTH, Texas --- There simply never was or never again will be a man more important to professional soccer in the United States than Lamar Hunt. I've known people with a sliver of Hunt's financial fortune who propped themselves up with filthy egos and a woeful sense of entitlement. Yet, in my experience, the billionaire Hunt never looked down on anyone. He spoke with fans and reporters like people, without a pompous air of superiority. I first discovered Hunt's sensible nature during an FC Dallas team picture day. I arrived at training camp, where a black Lamborghini sat in the parking lot. I asked the team trainer if the supercharged sports car belonged to one of the Hunt boys. The trainer laughed and said something along the lines of, "Are you kidding me? If one of those boys showed up driving that, Lamar would send them straight back to the dealership to return it." Turned out, the hot rod belonged to the former team doctor. See, for Hunt, it wasn't about showing off; it was always about the sport. Certainly, his work in the AFL/NFL would be noteworthy enough. However, Hunt was a fan of all sports and fell in love with soccer. True to his personality, he supported it, while others even today bash the game. Known as "Uncle Lamar" by the loyal soccer audience, Hunt invested in American professional soccer long before ESPN, adidas or investors such as Phil Anschutz and Robert Kraft ever believed in the sport. Hunt invested in the Dallas Tornado of the North American Soccer League, which eventually folded because of other folks' reckless overspending. However, he wasn't ready to give up on the notion of professional soccer in the United States. When Major League Soccer began in 1996, Hunt jumped into soccer again with teams in Columbus and Kansas City. He eventually added FC Dallas to reconnect his ties to the local soccer market. He pioneered the MLS stadium building boom by constructing the nation's first MLS soccer-specific stadium --- Columbus Crew Stadium. He then took the stadium model to a new level by helping build Pizza Hut Park in Frisco. With its 17 adjacent amateur fields, it has become the blueprint for financial success for the 11-year-old league. The National Soccer Hall of Fame has issued only three Medals of Honor, including the one to Hunt on May 15, 1999. The 1991 U.S. women's national team and former U.S. soccer president Alan I. Rothenberg, who brought the World Cup to the U.S. in 1994, are the only others to receive the award. Soccer Hall director Jack Huckel said, "The game at every level is richer for his contributions." "When he created the Dallas Tornado of the North American Soccer League, soccer in the Dallas/Fort Worth region was virtually nonexistent," Huckel said. "Truly, every soccer player and soccer fan in the area owes a debt of gratitude to his commitment to the game, as does every soccer fan across America."

--- Tobias Xavier Lopez, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
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