On the strength of his great inherited oil wealth, Lamar 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. Hunt also attempted to purchase the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals franchise in 1959 with the intent to move them to Dallas, but was again turned down. In response, Hunt approached several other businessmen who had also unsuccessfully sought NFL franchises, including fellow Texan and oil man K.S. Bud Adams of Houston, about forming a new football league, and the American Football League was established in August 1959. 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. As a response to the newly formed league and the presence of an AFL franchise in Dallas, the NFL quickly placed a new franchise of their own in Dallas, the Dallas Cowboys. As a result, the Dallas Texans, despite being one of the more successful AFL teams in the league’s early days, failed to draw fans in large numbers, as the Texans had to compete with the Dallas Cowboys for fans. In 1963 Lamar Hunt began to consider moving the team. Kansas City became one of the contending cities for the franchise. 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 1966, the NFL and AFL agreed to merge, with a championship game between the two leagues to be played after that season. In a July 25, 1966, letter to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, Lamar Hunt wrote, “I have kiddingly called it the ‘Super Bowl,’ which obviously can be improved upon.” Hunt would later say the name was likely in his head because his children had been playing with a Super Ball toy. Although the leagues’ owners decided on the name “AFL-NFL Championship Game,” the media immediately picked up on Hunt’s “Super Bowl” name, which would become official beginning with the third annual game, which was won by the AFL’s New York Jets over the NFL’s Baltimore Colts. In the Chiefs’ first two seasons attendance did not match the levels Mayor Bartle had promised, but in 1966 average home attendance at Chiefs games increased and reached 37,000. By 1969 Chiefs’ average home attendance had reached 51,000. In 1966 the Chiefs won their first AFL Championship (after having previously won it as the Dallas Texans) and reached the first ever Super Bowl, which the Chiefs lost to the Green Bay Packers. The Chiefs remained successful through the 1960s, and in 1970 the Chiefs won the AFL Championship and 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.
In 1972, Lamar 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 insisted that he be listed in the team media guide as the founder of the Chiefs rather than the owner. He publicly listed his telephone number in the phone book until his death. In 1967 Hunt helped promote professional soccer in the United States. Hunt’s interest in soccer began in 1962 when he accompanied his future wife, Norma, to a Shamrock Rovers match in Dublin, Ireland. In 1966, he viewed the FIFA World Cup in England, and then attended nine of the next 11 World Cups tournaments. In 1967, Hunt founded the Dallas Tornado as members of the United Soccer Association. In 1968 the league merged with the National Professional Soccer League to form the North American Soccer League. Hunt was an active advocate for the sport and the league and the Dallas Tornado won the NASL championship in 1971 and were runners-up 1973. The NFL owners were not happy with Hunt’s ownership in and promotion of pro soccer. 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 on the NFL, and the NASL won an anti-trust case against the NFL. A primary benefactor of this outcome was Lamar Hunt.
In 1981 after 15 seasons and losses in the millions, Lamar Hunt and his Dallas Tornado partner Bill McNutt decided to merge their team with the Tampa Bay Rowdies franchise, while retaining a minority stake in the Florida club. Two years later, along with Rowdies principal George Strawbrige, they sold the Rowdies to local investors. The move effectively ended Hunt’s ties to the NASL a year before the league itself finally collapsed. Lamar Hunt was also one of the original founding investors of Major League Soccer, which debuted in 1996. He originally owned two teams: the Columbus Crew and the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City). In 1999, Hunt financed the construction of the venue now known as Mapfre 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. Lamar Hunt died December 13, 2006 at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas of complications related to prostate cancer.
- August, 02, 1932
- El Dorado, Arkansas
- December, 13, 2006
- Dallas, Texas
Cause of Death
- prostate cancer
- Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park
- Dallas, Texas