Who is Lamar Hunt? Looking back at the former Kansas City Chiefs owner

Who is former Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, and what did he bring to the NFL and the wider sporting world during his life?

When it comes to the weekend of the AFC Conference Championships, Lamar Hunt is a name we hear a lot, especially when the Kansas City Chiefs are in action. Let’s look back at Hunt’s important role in the NFL and his other endeavors away from football.

Looking back at Lamar Hunt’s life

After being born in Arkansas, Hunt was raised in Dallas, Texas, the son of oil tycoon H.L. Hunt. He had six direct siblings and a further eight stepsiblings. Lamar Hunt attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana and The Hill School in Pennsylvania. He then went to college at SMU in the 1950s, where he played college football. Yet, he spent most of his time on the bench.

Hunt was the principal founder of the AFL

After graduating college, Hunt applied for an NFL expansion franchise in his hometown of Dallas. He was turned down, however, as the league looked to control expansion and ensure they did not oversaturate the market. 

When that failed, Hunt attempted to purchase the Cardinals franchise, which at that time was based in Chicago. He intended to move the franchise to Dallas, but again his attempts were unsuccessful. Yet, rather than give up on owning a professional football franchise, Hunt took a different approach. He gathered together with other businessmen who had been unsuccessful in acquiring an NFL franchise. As a group, the eight businessmen began the AFL in August 1959.

The birth of the AFL and the Kansas City Chiefs

Hunt worked closely with Bud Adams, a fellow Texan, with both having the goal of bringing professional football to Dallas. With the launch of the AFL, Hunt became the founder of the Dallas Texans. Adams became owner of the Houston Oilers. While the eight founders of the AFL were referred to as the “Foolish Club,” the eight franchises that began the AFL still exist in some guise today (in addition to the Texans and Oilers): Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Titans, and Oakland Raiders.

Although the Texans were successful on the field, they struggled to fill their stadium. That is because, in response to the presence of the Texans in Dallas, the NFL founded the Dallas Cowboys. After the 1962 season, Hunt determined that Dallas could not support two professional franchises. Therefore, after consideration, including looking for a location he could commute to from Dallas, Hunt moved the team to Kansas City, Missouri. Following the move, the team was rebranded to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Hunt coined the termed Super Bowl

You might think the name “Super Bowl” was heavily researched and market-tested before it came into effect. However, that was not the case. Formally, the first championship game was referred to as the “AFL-NFL Championship Game.” However, Hunt had sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in which he wrote, “I have kiddingly called it the ‘Super Bowl,’ which obviously can be improved upon.” 

It turned out that name would never be “improved upon.” The media picked up on the name and used it when talking about the game. By the time of the third Championship Game, the name of “Super Bowl” would be the official title. Later, Hunt would reveal that the name was potentially inspired by his children playing with a toy named “Super Ball.” Hunt then pressed Rozelle to name the trophy after the then-terminally ill Vince Lombardi. His role in the creation of the current NFL, as well as the naming of the Super Bowl and Vince Lombardi Trophy, earned him an honorable mention in Pro Football Network’s NFL Mount Rushmore.

Football was not Hunt’s only passion when it came to sports

Even after the NFL-AFL merger, Hunt was not done taking on the NFL. While the founding of the AFL was a direct battle with the NFL, the second time was seemingly less deliberate. Having become interested in soccer on a trip to Ireland in 1962, Hunt attended the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England. After returning from that tournament, he founded the Dallas Tornado as a member team of the United Soccer Association

Hunt’s interest in soccer did not sit well with NFL owners. They attempted to make it a legal requirement that NFL franchise owners could not have an ownership stake in more than one sport. This backfired spectacularly, as the North American Soccer League — which Hunt’s Dallas team was a part of following another merger — won an antitrust case against the NFL. Hunt was a huge benefactor in the outcome of the case. While his ownership of a soccer franchise in the NASL would end in 1983, he was not done with soccer.

Hunt was a founder of Major League Soccer

Not content with having already founded one professional sports league, Hunt was one of the founding investors of Major League Soccer. At the league’s inception, he owned two of the teams — the Columbus Crew and Kansas City Wizards. He continued to invest in the building of professional soccer in the US, including the construction of just the second soccer-specific stadium at the time in the USA. He then purchased the Dallas Burn in 2003 and financed the building of their own soccer-specific stadium.

While Hunt would sell the Wizards in 2006, after which they were rebranded Sporting Kansas City, his impact on MLS still remains. When Hunt passed away in December 2006, he was still the owner of the Columbus Crew, and his family remains in control of the Dallas team, now called FC Dallas. The Crew only recently moved out of the stadium that Hunt had financed the construction of. However, they still use the stadium as a practice facility. Meanwhile, FC Dallas remains in the same stadium that was built in 2005.

Tennis also owes a lot to Lamar Hunt

Not simply content with being involved in the NFL and professional soccer in the late 1960s, Hunt also invested in a new tennis tour. After he was approached by David Dixon, a New Orleans sports promoter, Hunt agreed to invest in World Championship Tennis in late 1967. The tour would become the major professional tennis tour in the early seventies and is credited with giving birth to the Open Era of tennis. 

Hunt was later inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame for his role in founding the tour. Two of the major innovations to come from World Championship Tennis were tiebreaks and the utilization of colored clothing. 

How did Lamar Hunt make his money?

Hunt’s money originally came from his father, who was an oil tycoon. His father made his money trading poker winnings for oil rights, securing much of the East Texas Oil Field. From that, he built a fortune that is considered to have been among the world’s largest, and he was considered to have the highest net worth of any individual in the world at his death. Lamar was his 10th son, and that is where the majority of the wealth to fund his sporting endeavors seemingly came from.

Family and succession

Hunt and two of his brothers, Nelson Bunker Hunt and William Herbert Hunt, partnered on business ventures. His half-sister, Swanee Hunt, was Ambassador to Austria under Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Lamar was married twice and had four children across the two marriages. His third child and second son, Clark Hunt, became chairman of the Chiefs and FC Dallas franchises. His second wife, Norma, and his children share ownership of the Chiefs. Clark represents the Chiefs at league owner meetings and manages the team on a day-to-day basis.

Other business ventures

Away from his influence on the sporting world, Hunt has found mixed success as a businessman. He and his brothers attempted to corner the silver market. At one time, they reportedly owned one-third of the silver market. However, when the price collapsed on what is known as Silver Thursday, the brothers were left to file for bankruptcy. 

Away from his investment in silver, Hunt founded two Kansas City theme parks: Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun. Both parks remain open to this day but were purchased by Cedar Fair LP in 1995. Additionally, he developed what is claimed to be the World’s Largest Underground Business Complex (™), SubTropolis, which is based in the bluffs above the Missouri River in Kansas City. 

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