Thu December 14, 2006
Lamar Hunt Legacy: Hard Work, Humility
By Steve Bell
Kansas City, MO – The son of one of the world's richest men, Lamar Hunt could have decided to live the irresponsible life of a playboy, but he came to be a modest, unassuming leader who worked long hours. He wanted to own a pro football team, and when he couldn't get one, founded the American Football League. With typical wry humor he made light of the fact that he and his fellow investors were nicknamed the "Foolish Club."
"The Dallas Texans, which was my football team, were losing a million dollars a year, and my dad was supposed to have said, 'well, at that rate he'll be in trouble in 142 years.'"
Hunt realized two teams was too much for Dallas, and sought a new home for his team. He found one in Kansas City in 1963, and renamed his team after the legendary mayor H. Roe Bartle, "The Chief." Hunt's dream came to fruition in Superbowl Four when Len Dawson quarterbacked the AFL team to a decisive victory over the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings.
Sound from game play-by-play as Dawson throws the winning pass.
Now a hall-of-famer,respected sports commentator, Dawson says ironically when Hunt founded the AFL it looked as though his quarterbacking days were numbered.
"I don't know what Len Dawson would be doing today. But I can tell you this, he would not be in Kansas City...not in pro football...and he definitely would not be in the pro football hall of fame because I would have been out of football. That's what Lamar Hunt did. Not only for me, but for hundreds of players...gave them their last chance to play professional football."
Dawson praises Hunt for his loyalty, his devotion to improving the game and his humility.
"Lamar Hunt never took credit for anything. He was a very humble man. He was more concerned about other people and more concerned about the the AFL than he was, I think, about himself."
Hunt's influence on Kansas City wasn't limited to football. He also brought championship tennis to the city, and major league soccer. And when he sold the soccer Wizards a few months back he made sure the new owners were people who would keep the team in the community. He founded Hunt Midwest Enterprises, encompassing mining operations and an underground real estate development large enough to contain downtown Kansas City and the Truman Sports Complex. His philanthropic activities were legendary,even though he kept part of them secret. But through it all, says Chiefs General Manager Carl Peterson, he kept the common touch. Until his health prohibited it, he would walk the Arrowhead parking lot before games talking to fans.
"He wanted to really know what they thought, and he interfaced with them in a way that you knew that maybe Lamar Hunt was the greatest fan of all."
Peterson says after the game Hunt always personally spoke with the players.
"And if we'd lost, he'd say, 'bad luck, we'll get em next week.' And if we'd won, he'd have a little anecdote for every single player 'what a great catch, what a great run, what a great block, what a great tackle!' And he sincerely meant it."
The AFL is now the AFC conference of the National Football League. Its championship trophy still bears Hunt's name. Hunt crusaded more than 20 years and finally got the AFC two-point conversion rule accepted by the NFL. He crusaded for and got Thanksgiving Day games that rotate among cities, and apologized when his health prevented him from attending the one in Kansas City. And, yes, in an offhand moment he did name America's biggest sports event.
"There was going to be an AFL champion playing an NFL champion and there was sometimes some confusion about which game we were talking about. Were we talking about the championship games, and should be have a week's layoff? And somebody said, 'well, which game are you talking about?' And I said, it was just one of those things that came out, and I said, 'the last game, the final game, the superbowl!'"
The Hunt family is arranging for memorial services in Dallas and Kansas City. Carl Peterson says the details will be announced when the plans are right.
"The one great thing that Lamar always demonstrated to me as an example: 'if we're gonna do it, let's do it right.' And that's what the man did his entire life."