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Lamar Hunt

Lamar Hunt (August 2, 1932December 13, 2006) was an American sportsman and promoter of American football, soccer,basketball, and ice hockey in the United States and an inductee of the first three sports' halls of fame. He was one of the founders of the American Football League (AFL) and Major League Soccer (MLS), as well as MLS predecessor the North American Soccer League (NASL). He was also the founder and owner of the National Football League's Kansas City Chiefs, the Kansas City Wizards and at his death owned two MLS teams, Columbus Crew and FC Dallas. The oldest annual team tournament in the U.S. in any sport, soccer's U.S. Open Cup (founded 1914) now bears his name in honor of his pioneering role in that sport stateside. In Kansas City, Hunt also helped establish the Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun theme parks. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972; into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1982; and into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993. The National Soccer Hall of Fame bestowed upon Hunt their Medal of Honor in 1999, an award given to only 3 recipients in history thus far. He was married for 42 years to second wife Norma, and had four children, Sharron, Lamar Jr., Daniel and Clark Hunt.

Early life

Hunt was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, the son of oil tycoon H. L. Hunt and younger brother of tycoon Nelson Bunker Hunt. Lamar was raised in Dallas, Texas. He graduated from The Hill School in Pennsylvania in 1950 and Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1956, with a B.S. degree in geology. Hunt was a college football player who rode the bench but was still an avid sports enthusiast during his time in college and throughout his entire childhood. While attending SMU Hunt joined the Kappa Sigma Fraternity and in 1972 was named "man of the year".

Founding of the American Football League

On the strength of his great inherited oil wealth, Hunt applied for a National Football League expansion franchise but was turned down. In 1959, professional football was a distant second to Major League Baseball in popularity, and the thinking among NFL executives was that the league must be careful not to "oversaturate" the market by expanding too quickly.

In response, in 1960 Hunt took the lead with fellow Texan and oil man K.S. Bud Adams of Houston, who likewise had tried and failed to be granted an NFL franchise, in forming the American Football League. Hunt and Adams encouraged, wheedled, and cajoled six other like-minded wealthy men, three of them fellow Texan to form this new league. The group of the eight founders of the AFL teams was referred to as the "Foolish Club." Hunt's goal was to bring professional football to Texas and to acquire an NFL team for the Hunt family. Hunt became owner of the Dallas Texans and hired future hall-of-famer Hank Stram as the team's first head coach.

Ownership and NFL merger

The Dallas Texans won the AFL Championship in 1962 over the 2-time defending champion Houston Oilers in the longest professional game ever played as of that time and were one of the most successful AFL teams in the league's early days. But the Texans' success failed to draw fans in large numbers, as the Texans had to compete for fan loyalty with their cross-town NFL rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. In 1963 Hunt began to consider moving the team. Kansas City quickly became one of the contending cities for the franchise. During cloak-and-dagger negotiating sessions, in order to convince Hunt to move the team to Kansas City, mayor H. Roe Bartle promised Hunt home attendance of 25,000 people per game. Hunt finally agreed to move the team to Kansas City and in 1963 the Dallas Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs.

In the Chiefs' early days, attendance did not match the expansive claims Mayor Bartle had made. But in 1966 average home attendance at Chiefs games picked up and reached 37,000. By 1969 -- aided by some very successful and entertaining teams -- Chiefs' home attendance had reached 51,000. In 1966 the Chiefs won their first AFL Championship and reached the first ever Super Bowl (a name coined by Hunt, who took it in part from the then popular toy, the Super Ball)-- then called the “AFL-NFL Championship Game” -- where they lost to the Green Bay Packers. The Chiefs remained successful through the 1960s, and in 1970 the Chiefs reached the pinnacle of success, winning the AFL Championship and later went on to win Super Bowl IV (the last Super Bowl played when the AFL was a separate league prior to it being absorbed into the NFL as the American Football Conference) over the heavily-favored Minnesota Vikings.

The rosters of the AFL were always stocked with a certain number of players who would have excelled in any league -- and that number grew as the 1960s progressed. The best AFL coaches and owners, many of them new to the pro game, brought color, excitement and important new strategic and marketing ideas to pro football, which had often been dominated by play-calling which overrated the value of eliminating mistakes and underrated the element of surprise. While the NFL was always almost certainly the better league as a whole, the best teams of the AFL were increasingly the equals of any team in the NFL.

The AFL also substantially raised football players' salaries by frequently bidding against the NFL for the top college stars. It was the NFL's concern for containing salaries, more than anything else, that led a reluctant NFL to accept a merger between the two leagues in 1970. The older league could no longer claim to be far superior because by then the AFL champion New York Jets had defeated the vaunted Baltimore Colts of the NFL to win the Super Bowl. The Chiefs' triumph over the Vikings the following season further showcased the AFL's ability.

Today's "descendants" from the AFL, the Patriots, Bills, Jets, Titans, Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers, Dolphins and Bengals would not have existed if it hadn’t been for Lamar Hunt. What’s more, the NFL’s Cowboys, created specifically to drive the AFL out of Dallas, would not have existed. Neither would the Vikings, an NFL franchise that was given to Max Winter to pull out of the original eight-team American Football League; nor would the Falcons, which the NFL gave to Rankin Smith to deter him from the AFL’s Miami franchise. Neither would the Saints, whose franchise was granted by the NFL after certain Louisiana congressmen pushed the AFL-NFL merger to completion. Or the Houston Texans, created to replace the Houston Oilers after they moved to Tennessee and became the Tennessee Titans. Thus, fifteen professional football teams would not have existed in fifteen cities today, if Lamar Hunt had not had the vision and the courage to “fight the establishment”.

In 1972, Hunt became the first American Football League personage inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The trophy presented to each year's AFC Champions is named the Lamar Hunt Trophy. In 1984, Hunt was also inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

Hunt has also been influential in soccer and tennis, and has contributed to the growth of those sports in the US. He has been elected to the Halls of Fame of both sports.

The NASL: ownership and battles with the NFL

With much already accomplished in the world of American football, Hunt moved on in 1967 to help jump start soccer in the U.S. In 1966 he had become enthralled with the World Cup on TV, and when it was decided that new pro leagues were to be formed in the U.S., Hunt wanted to be one of the initial movers and shakers.

His team in the North American Soccer League was the Dallas Tornado, and they debuted in 1967 as a part of the USA:United Soccer Association. In a more fledgling version of what was occurring with the AFL and NFL, in 1968 a pro soccer merger took place to form the North American Soccer League. Eventually, the NASL reached 24 teams, and at times, the most popular teams such as the New York Cosmos occasionally outdrawing their NFL and MLB counterparts in the same cities on the same dates, although the soccer teams did not sustain such attendance levels. With Lamar Hunt as an active advocate for the sport and the league, his team the Dallas Tornado won the NASL championship in 1971 and were runners-up '73.

The NFL was not happy with Hunt's ownership in and promotion of pro soccer, a sport that was taking away attention and spectators from the American football game. The NFL attempted to force legal requirements that would disallow team ownership in more than one sport for owners of NFL franchises. This strategy backfired onto the NFL, and in fact, the NASL won an anti-trust case against the NFL. A primary benefactor of this outcome was Lamar Hunt, and his legacy of leadership and ownership of pro soccer in those times remains to this day.

Major League Soccer

Lamar Hunt was also one of the original founding investors of Major League Soccer, which debuted in 1996. This time he owned two teams: the Columbus Crew and the Kansas City Wizards. In 1999, Hunt financed the construction of the Columbus Crew Stadium, the first of several large soccer-specific stadiums in the USA. In 2003, Hunt purchased a third team, the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas), after announcing that he would partially finance the construction of their own soccer-specific stadium. On 31 August 2006, Hunt sold the Wizards to a six-man ownership group led by Cerner Corporation co-founders Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig.

Other sports and activities

Basketball: Hunt was one of the founding investors of the Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association. He remained a minority owner until his death.

Tennis: In 1967, Hunt co-founded the World Championship Tennis circuit, which gave birth to the open era in tennis. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993.

NHL: Hunt and John H. McConnell formed Columbus Hockey Limited, L.L.C. (CHL) in an effort to obtain a National Hockey League franchise for Columbus, Ohio. Following disagreements over the financing for an arena, McConnell accepted an offer to lease a new arena from Nationwide Insurance Enterprise. McConnell froze-out CHL and Hunt and was awarded the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets franchise. See McConnell v. Hunt Sports Enterprises, 132 Ohio App.3d 657, 725 N.E.2d 1193 (1999), a lawsuit that Lamar Hunt lost and thus granted McConnel sole ownership of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Amusement Parks and Caves: Hunt was also the founder of two theme parks in Kansas City: Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun, which opened in 1973 and 1982 respectively. The two parks were an outgrowth and adjoined a vast industrial park he developed in the bluffs above the Missouri River in Clay County, Missouri. Immediately south of the parks is the Hunt-developed SubTropolis, a 55,000,000 square foot (5,060,000 m³), 1,100-acre manmade limestone cave which is claimed to be the World's Largest Underground Business Complex (TM). Hunt's extensive business dealings in Clay County were to contribute to the Chiefs having their NFL Training Camp at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri until 1991.

Honors

Death

Lamar Hunt died December 13, 2006 at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas of complications related to a ten-year battle with prostate cancer. Upon his death, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called Hunt, "a founder of the NFL as we know it today.... He's been an inspiration for me."

Said Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers: "Lamar Hunt was one of the most influential owners in professional football over the past 40-plus years, He was instrumental in the formation of the American Football League and in the AFL-NFL merger, which helped the National Football League grow into America's passion."

The Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, Kay Waldo Barnes, requested that all city flags fly at half-staff the following Thursday and Friday of his passing.

Upon his death his son Clark Hunt was named chairman of the Kansas City Chiefs. He was elected by his other three siblings, Lamar Jr., Sharron Munson, and Daniel.

Tribute

In 2007, the Kansas City Chiefs honored Hunt and the AFL. The Chiefs 2007 Media Guide is full of images, logos and anecdotes about the league and each of its original teams. Prominently featured in the Guide and in the Chiefs 2007 Yearbook is a special AFL patch. The Yearbook's description of the patch states: "As part of a year-long tribute to Hunt in 2007, the Chiefs will wear a commemorative patch that prominently features the American Football League logo to serve as a reminder of Hunt's formation of the AFL and the lasting impact the American Football League has made on the game of Professional Football. The patch will be affixed to the left chest of both Kansas City's home and away jerseys, meaning this piece of woven symbolism will be worn over the heart of every Chiefs player." On January 31, 2008, Clark Hunt, Lamar Hunt's son and President of the Chiefs, announced that henceforth, the patch will be a permanent part of the Chiefs uniform.

In 2007, the Columbus Crew honored their founder and owner by displaying a commemorative Lamar Hunt emblem on the left chest of both the home and away jerseys. The emblem consisted of the initials "LH" within a circle. Prior to the 2008 season, the Crew announced that the "LH" emblem will be a permanent patch on the left sleeve of the club's jerseys.

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