Lamar Hunt: Age Catches Up

Posted Oct 9, 2014

The memories of Super Chiefs begin to fade

This is the fifth installment in a series of columns tracing Lamar Hunt role in the marketing of the Kansas City Chiefs and the situations and circumstances he faced in doing so.

Chapter 1: Lamar Hunt: Consummate salesman

Chapter 2: Lamar Hunt: A Man for all Seasons

Chapter 3: Lamar Hunt: Early struggles

Chapter 4: Lamar Hunt: Winning cures all

As the 60’s turned into the ‘70s and the merger between the AFL and NFL became a reality, the struggles appeared over for the Chiefs. Kansas City could be proud of its status as one of professional football’s finest organizations with passionate fans the equal to any found at longer running NFL franchises.

But even as memories of the victory in Super Bowl IV were still fresh in everyone’s mind - a fact that even the disappointment of the Christmas Day playoff loss to Miami in the longest game ever played couldn’t dampen -- age was catching up to the players Kansas Citians had fallen in love with. 

The advantages the Chiefs had had for many years included the owner’s financial resources and the fact that his team was drafting against only those teams in the AFL. The loss of personnel guru Don Klosterman years before turned out to be more of a blow, too, since he was responsible for many of the marquee players who had helped the team achieve its AFL dominance. Finding the right players was turning out to be far more difficult than it had used to be, and the NFL had finally awakened and sought out players from the historically black colleges to the South.

Once the leagues merged it was to become significantly difficult to stockpile so much talent of the quality the team had gathered in the early days of the AFL.  No longer would the Chiefs -- or any AFL team, for that matter -- be able to grab the likes of a Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Dave Hill, Ed Budde, and Jerrel Wilson in one year. Suddenly, there were 26 teams vying for the same pool of players and money had nothing to do with it.

As he did when he turned his attention to soccer, Hunt believed in the importance of the venue: where the games were played. Many NFL teams still played in built for baseball stadiums, some of them dating back to the early days of the 20th century. To Hunt’s mind, and no doubt to others, these were hardly the best places to stage a football game, forcing the construction of bizarre and many times temporary seating arrangements, or some too far from the action on the field.

With the on-the-field success, came a drive for a new stadium. Hunt took little for granted and was at the forefront of the campaign to enlist voter support to finance a brand new home for his team. A rolling exhibit complete with a model of the proposed stadium, and manned by Chiefs players and local supporters, moved throughout the metro area providing voters with a close-in look at what Hunt and the city fathers had proposed.

Arrowhead Stadium was a marvel, one of the truly unique football stadiums in the land when it opened in 1972, indeed, the entire Truman Sports Complex was with Royals Stadium built right next to it. Hunt, as was his custom, had been far-seeing and the design elements were revolutionary, even to old NFL hands like George Halas who had been there at the creation of pro football in this country. Halas was reported to have called Arrowhead:  “the most revolutionary, futuristic, sports complex I have ever seen.”

Sadly, Hunt never realized his dream of what he called “a rolling roof” to address the issue of inclement weather. He had originally extended the concept to include a large observation tower overlooking both the football and baseball stadiums.  He was an unabashed “fan of observation towers,” he said, having been to the Eiffel Tower “five or six times” since his college days. 

While he quickly admitted that he had “no misgivings that Kansas City has a natural beauty view comparable to Seattle [Space Needle], it would give the Sports Complex [‘the most famous man-made structure in Kansas City,’ he believed] status.”

In his typical way, Hunt had been a visionary, how the stadium was to look and what features he believed must be included. The structure would not be a testament to some architect’s cleverness. He outfitted his ushers in distinctive clothing, built coaching offices overlooking the field and locker rooms and weight rooms that were ahead of their time, and opened a fully functioning restaurant and banquet operation on the stadium’s fourth level. Of perhaps greater importance, his team would care for its new home, making sure that the Chiefs would assume the responsibility for its upkeep and not be dependent on a city or a county. 

Two years removed from its Super Bowl appearance, the future still looked bright. More than 72,000 season ticket holders seemed to agree.    

Next time: All that is new is not good

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