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The Merger Part One: How Lamar Hunt's Vision Changed the Landscape of American Sports

The first of a three-part series in how Hunt changed everything


It had never been his intention to take such a bold step, but his options, no less his patience, had brought him to this moment.

Lamar Hunt had dreamed since his prep school days of owning a professional football team only to be turned away.

He had met with NFL commissioner Bert Bell repeated times and he had offered him nothing but discouragement. There would be no league expansion, indeed, the committee to entertain such matters had never met and if it had, it needed unanimous agreement from all the owners to expand.  Moreover, the league's previous foray years before into Dallas — Hunt's hometown — had been a disaster and the team gone.  Finally, no owner wished to offer Hunt any more than a minority ownership.


Lamar Hunt

With one move available to him now, the young Hunt was surprisingly buoyed.  He would start a new league. Surely there were men out there like himself who would join him.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the merger of Hunt's American Football League and the National Football League, the culmination of months of negotiations between Hunt and NFL officials to end what had been a 10-year war between the two leagues.  This is how Hunt's biographer, the acclaimed writer Michael MacCambridge, portrays the moment when the young Texan reached the decision to start a new pro league.

"I thought to myself, I've had all these conversations with these people, and they're not going to do what I want them to do, they're not going to move to Dallas," Hunt said. "But in the course of conversations, they had asked if I knew Bud Adams in Houston. Then they asked if I knew Bob Howsam in Denver. 'Do you know Max Winter in Minneapolis?' And I did not, and anyway, over the course of those friendly conversations with them, they mentioned every one of these people and told me that each of them had gone the same path that I had, that they all wanted the Cardinals to move to their city. And so there it was—the light bulb came on—and I said, 'Why not go see those people and put together a new league?'"


*"The Foolish Club"
Posing seated from left are:* K.S. "Bud" Adams. Jr. (Houston Oilers), AFL Commissioner, Joe Foss. Stadning left to right: Bill Sullivan, (Boston Patriots), Cal Kuntz (Denver Broncos), Ralph C. Wilson Jr. (Buffalo Bills), Lamar Hunt (Dallas Texans), and the League's founder, Harry Wismer (New York Titans), Wayne Valley (Oakland Raiders), and Barron Hilton (Los Angeles Chargers)

Lamar had a long habit of taking copious notes on whatever paper was available, and many of his brainstorms had been sketched out on the back of envelopes or in the margins of magazines. But with this thundercrack of inspiration, he knew he needed more. He asked a stewardess for some stationary, and he hurriedly sketched out the plans on three sheets of onionskin writing paper with an American Airlines letterhead.

Writing in short, neat printing strokes, he had finished his outline by the time the plane landed, drawing up provisions for owners, even making rough estimates on the costs of equipment and the revenue for ticket sales. He had even drawn up a rough schedule for the first season, going as far to sketch out the likely weekends the regular season would begin and end.


He got into his car at the Love Field parking lot and drove home to Orchard Lane. And by the time he reached the driveway, this protracted bout of floundering helplessness had dissipated. For nearly three years, Lamar had cast about in the halls of Hunt Oil, taken trips in which he had no compelling interest, and gone through the motions of pursuing an oil career. Now, suddenly, he was energized. For the first time since he'd given up the dream of being the next Doak Walker, he had a sense of purpose.

And the landscape of American sports was about to change forever.

You can purchase Michael MacCambridge's book, *Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports*, by following this link.

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