Jack Steadman helped make Kansas City a major-league town.
Steadman, best-known for his role as top executive of the Chiefs for nearly 50 years, died Sunday.
He was 86.
Steadman was Lamar Hunt’s right-hand man starting with the formation of the American Football League and founding of the franchise in 1960. He oversaw three AFL championships and a Super Bowl victory and was the principal force behind the construction of the Truman Sports Complex, home to Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums.
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“My entire family is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Jack Steadman,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said in a statement released by the team on Sunday. “Jack was more than a dedicated and talented businessman, but a dear friend to my family. He was one of my father’s greatest business associates and the two of them accomplished much during the more than four decades they worked together. Jack played a key role in the development of the American Football League and was also an influential figure in the success of the Chiefs. During his tenure as general manager, the team won four championships including Super Bowl IV.
“While Chiefs football was his true passion, Jack and my father had many other business ventures together, including the development of Worlds of Fun and Hunt Midwest Enterprises, both key contributors to the growth of Kansas City.
“I had the privilege of knowing Jack my entire life, and he taught me much about both business and life. He always brought a strong, innovative perspective to the room. Jack was an outstanding man of character, who greatly valued his faith and family. While today we are saddened by his passing, his contributions to the Chiefs, the Kansas City community and my family will never be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Judy, and the entire Steadman family.”
Steadman’s imprint on the Kansas City community went beyond sports. He served as Chairman of the Heart of America United Way and president of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City; president of the Kansas City unit of the American Cancer Society and was on the boards of directors of the Civic Council, the American Royal Association, and Starlight Theatre. In 1988, he was selected by the Chamber of Commerce as the Kansas Citian of the Year.
But it was with the Chiefs that Steadman first made his mark in Kansas City.
Steadman had spent nine years as an accountant for the Hunt Oil Co. in Dallas when Lamar Hunt asked him for help in establishing the business procedures for the AFL, which Hunt founded and would begin play in 1960.
Steadman eventually became the Dallas Texans’ general manager and the club became league champions in 1962. Finding it difficult to compete for fans against the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, Hunt and Steadman began to look for a new home.
They settled on Kansas City, and as Steadman worked out details for the move, he lived a covert life. He stayed at the old Muehlebach Hotel and was introduced around town by Mayor Roe Bartle from January until May 1963 when the move of the franchise was announced.
“Lamar wasn’t the one to move to Kansas City when the team did,” said former Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson. “Somebody had to be in Kansas City to do the things for him. Jack was that guy for a lot of years.”
One of Steadman’s first decisions was to market the Chiefs beyond the Kansas City metropolitan area and make it a regional franchise throughout the Midwest states of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska.
The Chiefs, led by coach Hank Stram, were successful on the field, winning the AFL championship in 1966 and playing in the first Super Bowl, where they lost to the Green Bay Packers. Steadman assisted Hunt in creating the merger of the AFL and NFL in 1966, and after the Chiefs won the final AFL championship in 1969, they beat Minnesota in Super Bowl IV.
Off the field, Steadman was recognized as a new breed of NFL executive whose expertise in financial matters was revolutionary. He helped build the Chiefs season-ticket base through an innovative payroll deduction plan. He also was among the first NFL executives to develop a time-payment plan for season tickets.
The Chiefs outgrew old Municipal Stadium, and rather than build a cookie-cutter, dual-purpose stadium like so many other cities had for their football and baseball teams, architects came up with the radical idea of a separate stadiums next to each other that provided better sight lines for each sport. Jackson County taxpayers approved the construction of the complex, which kept major league sports in Kansas City. The dual- stadium idea was ahead of its time and eventually imitated by many cities during the next 30 years.
Unfortunately, as the Chiefs moved into their beautiful new stadium, their fortunes on the field waned in the 1970s and 1980s. Hunt had given Stram a 10-year contract and control of most player-personnel decisions, and the Chiefs’ talent base declined rapidly.
Steadman became the prime target for fans’ dissatisfaction, and during the next 14 years, the club fired five head coaches, starting with Stram in 1975. The club made the playoffs just once from 1972-1989, and Arrowhead was half-empty for most games.
“I have to be as responsible as anybody for that,” Steadman said in a 2005 interview. “Like any president, I asked questions when you’re not getting the results. The fact is that finally I decided the only way we were going to turn the operation around was to change from a business-run front office to a football-run front office.”
In December 1988, Steadman stepped aside for Carl Peterson and moved up to Chairman of the Board. He no longer was involved in the day-to-day operations of the football team but continued to devote time to the other Hunt enterprises in the Kansas City area counseled Hunt on financial matters until his retirement in 2007.
Steadman, as chairman of Hunt Midwest, the conglomerate of businesses owned by Lamar Hunt, was instrumental in the development of Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun, two of the most popular tourist attractions in Kansas City that have since been sold by Hunt Midwest.
Steadman also played a key role in convincing Jackson County taxpayers to approve a three/eighths cent sales tax in 2006 that helped raise $425 million in renovations to the two stadiums in exchange for the clubs’ signing 25-year lease extensions.
Steadman was born Sept. 14, 1928 in Warrenville, Ill., about 30 miles outside of Chicago. He moved to Dallas, Texas, when he was 14 years old. He played offensive and defensive tackle on his high school football team, making the all-city team one season. His athletic career ended when he enrolled at Baylor University. He jokingly said that at Baylor he discovered ``I not only lacked quickness, I was slow.’’
Steadman’s public image was that of a hard-driving businessman. He bristled at any hint that his private persona was similar.
``I’m a warm guy,’’ Steadman once told a reporter. ``I love being around people. I get a real kick out of seeing people have fun. The public doesn’t see Jack Steadman at home around the pool with his family. The public doesn’t see Jack Steadman relaxing with his friends, and they don’t see Jack Steadman at church.”