NFL: Chiefs owner Hunt dies at 74

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 22, 2006

Associated Press

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 Thursday as plans were being made for burial of the 74-year-old sports pioneer.

“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.”

Hunt, who founded the American Football League in 1960 after the NFL refused to sell him a team, died late 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.”

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. His love of sports led to his nickname, “Games.”

He played football at SMU, a third-string end, but spent his life promoting professional sports, including basketball, baseball, tennis, soccer and bowling.

In 1972, 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.”

Carl Peterson, the Chiefs’ president and general manager, called Hunt “arguably the greatest sportsman of this last half-century, although he never sought fame or recognition for the improvements and changes he brought to the world’s sports institutions.”

“His was a creative, constructive and loving life not nearly long enough and we will likely never see one like it again,” Peterson said.