The Road to the Merger Part 2: The Founding Document

This was the AFL’s “Magna Carta”

Lamar Hunt was a voracious writer of memoranda encompassing many pages as he sought to establish a new professional football league.

In his many missives, he gave considerable thought on how his American Football League should run and his writings form the corpus of forty-some boxes of The Lamar Hunt Papers, stored at his family's Hunt Midwest Enterprise historian's office in Kansas City.

Hunt recognized the importance of what may be considered the AFL's "founding document," and he took special pains to see to its preservation down through the years of his life. It has attracted wider attention since its discovery because of the essential information it provides on how he believed a professional football league should operate.

While few saw it, fewer still could read Hunt's handwriting if they did. His pencil sketches in the margins of many of his directives to staff were often difficult to read. But the document can now be viewed in its original form with some important annotations in an exhibit in the club's Hall of Honor at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.

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By 1959, it had become abundantly clear to Hunt that he would not be able to purchase a National Football League franchise. There were no takers of his offer and he had been told that the league had no intentions of expanding - indeed, the committee to consider expansion had never even met.

Flying back from Miami in February following a meeting with Walter Wolfner, owner of the then-Chicago Cardinals, he knew that it had been his last chance. Wolfner had turned him down to buy a controlling interest in the Cardinals. But Hunt had an epiphany.

From his conversation with Wolfner, Hunt knew that other businessmen had approached the Cardinals with an interest in buying the team, too. That led him to believe that together with these men and others, perhaps a new professional league could make it operating outside the NFL. Interest was there, he believed, and during what would be a long flight back to Dallas in a prop plane he asked a flight attendant for some paper, which turned out to be onion-skinned American Airlines stationary, and sketched out how it might all work.

Entitled, "Original 6: First Year's Operations," Hunt identified some specifics of what would be an entirely new enterprise.

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By the time the plane landed in Dallas, he had outlined general operating principles for the league including a basic profit-and-loss statement, estimates on equipment costs, and revenue from ticket sales.

He included cities to host teams, a schedule and a "split net gate 60% to home — with visitors having a choice of 40% or $35,000, whichever is larger." Some of the cities he identified fell outside the NFL's list of franchises bringing the game to a wider audience. At the time, the only professional football teams existed in the Northeast, Upper Midwest and California.

He included a college draft with each of his league's teams having territorial rights for one player, then a 30-round draft. The cities in which he expected to have teams included, to no surprise, Houston and Denver, since he had heard that men there had an interest in owning a franchise, then Buffalo, New York, Los Angeles, and, of course, his hometown of Dallas.

And then, there was the idea of revenue sharing among member teams which perhaps, in the long view, would be the most remembered of the concepts he laid out in this document.

Excited now that he could shed what he considered an unfulfilling career as an employee of his father's Hunt Oil company, Hunt was empowered to reach out to other prospective owners of franchises and make his dreams a reality.

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