Lamar Hunt, at 74; an innovator, financier, and fan, he helped remake pro football
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Lamar Hunt, the soft-spoken son of a Texas oil tycoon whose vision gave birth to the modern NFL, is being remembered as a man who changed the face of pro football.
"Lamar Hunt was one of the most influential owners in professional football over the past 40-plus years," Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said yesterday as plans were being made for burial of the 74-year-old sports pioneer.
Mr. Hunt, who founded the American Football League in 1960 after the NFL refused to sell him a team, died Wednesday night in a Dallas hospital following a long battle with prostate cancer.
He moved his Dallas Texans to Kansas City in 1963 and renamed them the Chiefs.
"In creating the AFL, he likely did more to change the NFL over the last half-century than any other single person," said New York Jets CEO Woody Johnson. "Without Lamar Hunt, there would be no Super Bowl, a term he originally coined, and there would not be a New York Jets franchise."
Mr. Hunt entered the hospital for the last time Nov. 22, only 24 hours before his beloved Chiefs hosted Denver in a Thanksgiving night game, something he had fought for for 37 years. While treating him for a partially collapsed lung, doctors discovered the cancer had spread.
"He wanted people to love the sports like he did," his wife Norma said. "He loved sports so much, he was so passionate about them, and he wanted others to share the joy."
Said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell: "His vision transformed pro football and helped turn a regional sport into a national passion. Lamar created a model franchise in the Kansas City Chiefs, but he was always equally devoted to the best interests of the league and the game."
The son of Texas oilman H.L. Hunt, Lamar Hunt grew up in Dallas and attended a private boys' prep school in Pennsylvania, serving as captain of the football team in his senior year.
He was nicknamed "Games" as a child because of his passion for inventing new games and scoring systems. That trait persisted into adulthood, and Mr. Hunt was credited with introducing the two-point post-touchdown conversion to the NFL and the seven-point tiebreaker to competitive tennis.
He played football at SMU, a third-string end, then spent his life promoting professional sports, including basketball, baseball, tennis, soccer, and bowling.
After shepherding the AFL to success, Mr. Hunt finally realized his dream of becoming an NFL owner after he helped arrange a merger of the two leagues in 1966.
In 1967, the Chiefs lost the first AFL-NFL championship -- it was then called the World Championship Game. Three years later, the Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings for the title.
By then, the championship game had been christened the Super Bowl, a name Mr. Hunt came up with while watching his children at play with a small rubber ball called a "Super Ball."
"But I was smart enough to understand," he once said with characteristic humor, "that it was a corny term that would never catch on with the public."
Many also credit Hunt with aiding the civil rights movement, which was just beginning to accelerate in the early '60s, when Hunt's upstart AFL created more opportunities for black players.
Unlike many established NFL teams, the AFL sent scouts into the historically black colleges such as Grambling. As the AFL grew more successful, the NFL began signing more black players as well.
"There is no question the AFL helped expand opportunities for minority athletes in this country, and Lamar founded the AFL," Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said. "He turned his back to the crowd many times. That's what great leaders do."
In 1972, Mr. Hunt became the first AFL figure to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and each year the Lamar Hunt Trophy goes to the winner of the NFL's American conference.
"He was a founder. He was the energy, really, that put together half of the league, and then he was the key person in merging the two leagues together," Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody that's made a bigger contribution [to the NFL] than Lamar Hunt."
For several years, Mr. Hunt also owned the minor-league baseball Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs, but his 1964 effort to bring major league baseball to the Dallas-area failed. Eight years later, the Washington franchise moved to suburban Arlington and became the Texas Rangers.
In addition, he was one of the founding partners of the Chicago Bulls basketball team.
Mr. Hunt was also involved in the development of the North American Soccer League, Major League Soccer, and World Championship Tennis, resulting in his induction in the US Soccer Hall of Fame and the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
"There quite simply has never been a more influential person in sports in the United States, and when it comes to soccer, he was the pioneer, the innovator and the patriarch all rolled into one,"' US Soccer president Sunil Gulati said in a statement.
Mr. Hunt leaves his wife; his children Lamar Jr., Sharron Munson, Clark, and Daniel; and 13 grandchildren.