The National Football League and the American sports community lost a true treasure at approximately 10:00 PM on December 13, 2006 when Chiefs Founder Lamar Hunt peacefully passed away at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas at the age of 74.
Hunt was originally diagnosed with prostate cancer in '98 and quietly underwent many treatments and surgeries over the past eight years. He maintained his active schedule until entering the hospital for the final time on November 22nd. He is survived by his wife, Norma and their four children, Lamar, Jr., Sharron Munson, Clark and Daniel. He was also the proud grandfather of 14 grandchildren.
Recognized as one of the greatest sportsmen in American history, Hunt served as the guiding force behind the formation of both the American Football League and the Kansas City Chiefs franchise.
Hunt served as a positive influence on the game for 47 years dating back to his conception of the American Football League in '59. He was the first AFL figure to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in '72, a remarkable feat considering he became involved in the game just 13 years earlier.
Hunt served as the catalyst who brought together the whimsically-named "Foolish Club" comprised of the eight original AFL owners. His "impossible dream" became a reality when his fledgling league took foot on the field for the '60 season. On June 8, 1966, the AFL-NFL merger was announced by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and on January 15, 1967, Hunt's Kansas City Chiefs were participating in the inaugural Super Bowl.
"Before there was a player, coach or a general manager in the league there was Lamar Hunt," late Patriots owner William Sullivan remarked at Hunt's Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "Hunt was the cornerstone, the integrity of the league. Without him, there would have been no AFL."
Despite his many accomplishments, Hunt's humility was one of his most unwavering and most endearing traits. While he modestly declined to take credit for his efforts, he truly played an important role in the design, ongoing development and direction of the modern-day National Football League.
Whether it was serving as the driving force behind the formation of the AFL, serving as a key player in the AFL-NFL merger talks in the '60s, or overseeing many crucial issues concerning pro football and the Chiefs franchise during the past four decades, few individuals helped change the face of America's favorite game for the better than this quiet Texan.
In addition to being a principal negotiator in the merger of the AFL and NFL in the late '60s, he was a contributor to the design of the NFL playoff format. He is also credited with accidentally putting the name "Super Bowl" on the NFL's championship game - the name coming from his children's toy "Super Ball."
For many years, he was a persistent advocate of the two-point conversion option for pro football - an old college and AFL rule that was finally adopted by the NFL in '94. Hunt had also lobbied for many years that an additional Thanksgiving game be added to the NFL schedule and in 2006, those efforts were rewarded when the Chiefs hosted the first-ever Thanksgiving contest at Arrowhead Stadium.
Perhaps Hunt's biggest influence on the league over the years was his quiet, yet persuasive voice of reason. Hunt's name is rightfully mentioned alongside other legendary family surnames in pro football history such as Halas, Mara and Rooney for his commitment to putting the betterment of the league ahead of any potential individual gain.
As the founder of the AFL, he helped pave the way for much of the modern growth of pro football. Possibly the greatest tribute to his contributions to the sport was the naming by the league of the Lamar Hunt Trophy, which is presented annually to the champion of the American Football Conference.
The early days of the AFL were problem-filled and often tenuous, but Hunt saw his Dallas Texans franchise achieve on-field success. In '62, the Texans won the AFL Championship with a double-overtime victory over the Houston Oilers, the first of three titles won by the Texans/Chiefs during the league's 10-year existence.
After three years in Dallas, Hunt moved his team to Kansas City in '63, where the organization was renamed the Chiefs. Hunt truly helped put Kansas City on the "big-league" map, thanks to a star-studded football team that was the winningest in the 10-year history of the American Football League.
Hunt's team repeated as AFL champions in both '66 and '69. By winning the '66 AFL title, the Chiefs earned the right to play in the first Super Bowl against the NFL Champion Green Bay Packers. Three years later, the Chiefs claimed Kansas City's first major sports championship by defeating the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.
In the late '60s, Hunt was closely involved in the original development plans for Arrowhead Stadium, a facility which provided the Chiefs and their fans with one of the most decided homefield advantages in all of sports. While other venues of a similar vintage have long since been termed obsolete or have been demolished, Arrowhead continues to serve as a point of pride for the Chiefs and the Kansas City community.
Thanks in large part to the vision and lobbying efforts of Hunt, Jackson County Missouri voters approved a 3/8 cent sales tax in April of 2006. That measure is expected to raise $425 million for the Truman Sports Complex, of which $325 million has been earmarked to renovate Arrowhead in order to bring the facility up to today's state-of-the-art standards. Those improvements should only further solidify Arrowhead's status as one of America's foremost sporting venues.
Hunt's longtime dream of hosting a Super Bowl in Kansas City appeared to become a reality when NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced on November 16, 2005 that NFL owners had passed a proposal to bring the NFL's championship game to Kansas City in February of 2015.
Unfortunately, a provision in April's election that would have resurrected the "rolling roof" concept for Arrowhead Stadium did not pass. The "rolling roof" was part of Hunt's initial vision for Arrowhead Stadium in the '60s. In its 21st century incarnation, the "rolling roof" would have provided a climate-controlled facility suitable for hosting the Super Bowl, the Final Four and other prestigious events.
While Hunt did not realize his goal of seeing an NFL title game played in Kansas City, he worked diligently to bring other prominent sporting contests to Arrowhead over the years. The "Home of the Chiefs" served as host of the Dr Pepper Big 12 Conference Championship Game in 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2006. In addition to numerous other collegiate football contests, the Chiefs hosted several international soccer matches at Arrowhead thanks to Hunt's influence.
Hunt's decision to hire Chiefs President, General Manager and CEO Carl Peterson in December '88 set the stage for a football renaissance in Kansas City. During the decade of the '90s, Hunt and Peterson, earned the distinction of becoming just the fourth Owner/General Manager combination to preside over a franchise for all 10 years of a 100-win decade as Kansas City compiled a stellar 102-58 (.638) regular season record from '90-99.
Under Hunt's stewardship, the Chiefs developed an intensely-loyal fan following, not just in Mid-America, but across the country and around the globe. Hunt took great satisfication in the fact that the Chiefs boasted season-ticket holders from 48 of the 50 states (all but Maine and Vermont), the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Canada. He was also appreciative of the fact that Kansas City was selected to represent the NFL in four American Bowl contests - Berlin, Germany ('90), Tokyo, Japan ('94, '98) and Monterrey, Mexico ('96).
While the Chiefs always remained Hunt's most prized sporting entity, his passion for athletics encompassed more than just the game of football. Appropriately nicknamed "Games" during his childhood, Hunt's love of sports was his true lifeblood, an enthusiasm which led to his involvement in six different professional sports leagues and seven sports franchises.
In addition to his formative role in the creation of the American Football League, Hunt was involved in the development of both the North American Soccer League and a tennis promotion company, World Championship Tennis.
Hunt's involvement in those ventures resulted years later in his induction into the respective Halls of Fame of both United States Soccer (located in Oneonta, New York) in '82 and International Tennis (located in Newport, Rhode Island) in '93. He was also inducted into the state Sports Halls of Fame of both Missouri ('95) and Texas ('84). In total, Hunt was selected to eight "Halls of Fame," including the Texas Business Hall of Fame ('97) and the Kansas City Business Hall of Fame (2004).
In '81, Hunt was inducted into the NFL Alumni Association's prestigious Order of the Leather Helmet and in February of '93, he received the Francis J. "Reds" Bagnell Award from the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia for continuing positive contributions to the game.
Truly a sportsman for all seasons, Soccer America Magazine named Hunt one of its "25 Most Influential People" in '99 after the 91-year-old U.S. Open Cup was renamed the "Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup." That same year he also received the U.S. Soccer Federation Hall of Fame Medal of Honor, joining former U.S. Soccer President Alan Rothenberg as the only other individual to earn that prestigious distinction. In 2005, the U.S. Soccer Foundation honored Hunt with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Hunt Family served as the Investor/Operators of the Kansas City Wizards franchise of Major League Soccer from '95-06 and reveled as the Wizards claimed the 2000 MLS Cup. The Hunt Family still oversees the operations of two MLS franchises, F.C. Dallas and the Columbus Crew.
The Hunt Sports Group has been at the forefront of stadium development in the United States, beginning with America's first soccer-specific stadium, 22,555-seat Crew Stadium which opened in '99. In 2005, Pizza Hut Park was completed in Frisco, Texas, giving the Dallas area one of the world's most unique and futuristic soccer facilities.
Hunt was also one of the founding investors in the six-time World Champion Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association. In total, Hunt was the owner of 13 distinctive championship rings from five different professional sports associations (AFL/NFL, MLS, NBA, NASL and the U.S. Soccer "Open Cup"). His football championship litany included a Super Bowl IV ring from the '69 Chiefs, as well as AFL title rings from the '62 Texans and '66 Chiefs.
A highly-successful businessman outside of sports, one of Hunt's most notable innovations was SubTropolis, the world's largest underground business complex, located just North of Arrowhead Stadium. This naturally climate-controlled, subterranean industrial park serves home to over 50 local, national and international businesses.
Hunt also envisioned and developed Worlds of Fun, a 165-acre family entertainment complex which opened in '73, as well as the 60-acre family water recreation park, Oceans of Fun which was completed in '82. While both of those entities were sold in '95, Hunt Midwest Enterprises, Inc. continues to oversee a diverse range of business interests, including limestone mining and real estate development.
Hunt was born on August 2, 1932 in El Dorado, Arkansas and graduated from SMU with a B.S. in Geology in '56. While at SMU, he was a three-year reserve end on the Varsity Football Team. Hunt was an avid supporter of his alma mater and was an annual fixture at the Cotton Bowl. He and his wife Norma were also involved in numerous philanthropic and civic efforts in Dallas, across the state of Texas and in the Kansas City community.