NFL 100 – Lamar Hunt

10 Sep

The National Football League as we know it today would not be the juggernaut that it is without the contributions of the men known as “The Foolish Club”, the owners who defied the established NFL and formed the upstart American Football League in 1960. And the AFL likely would never have gotten off the ground, or merged with the NFL in later years, without the stewardship of Lamar Hunt. The son of a wealthy Texas oil man, Hunt tried to convince the NFL to allow him to put a team in Dallas, and also attempted to buy the Chicago Cardinals with the intention of moving them to Dallas, but was rebuffed on both accounts. Determined to own his own pro football team, Hunt convinced a group of other millionaires, some of whom were also unsuccessful in buying NFL teams, to form a new pro football league. So, in 1959, the new eight team American Football League was born, to begin play in 1960. Hunt’s club would be located in Dallas and be known as the Texans. The new league had planned to put franchises in Minnesota and St. Louis also, but the established NFL torpedoed those efforts, and Hunt’s Texans’ team, by putting expansion teams in Dallas (to begin play in 1960 as the Cowboys) and Minnesota (to start in 1961 as the Vikings). Despite earlier refusing, the league allowed the Bidwell family to move the Cardinals from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960 to corner that market.

The new league persevered despite the setbacks. Unable to compete with the NFL’s Cowboys, Hunt relocated his franchise to Kansas City, where they were renamed the Chiefs, and the Minnesota franchise was replaced by Oakland. The AFL grew in popularity over the decade and with pro football gaining a major audience in America, they were able to land a television contract that put them on a near equal level with the older league, allowing the newer league’s teams to compete for top players. Hunt was the point man for the AFL in the secret merger talks between the leagues. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle mediated the talks between Hunt and the NFL’s representative, Cowboys’ executive Tex Schramm. Included in the merger of the leagues was an agreement to play an annual championship game that is what we now know as the biggest sporting event of the year, the Super Bowl. The “Super Bowl” name was coined by Hunt. He thought of it when he noticed his kids playing with a popular toy of the 1960s, the Super Ball. Hunt’s team, the Chiefs, defeated Buffalo in the AFL title game to earn the right to play in the first AFL-NFL championship.


superballThe Super Ball, by Wham-O, made of Zectron, which I’m sure is totally safe 

As an owner, Hunt was savvy enough to hire a future Hall of Fame coach, Hank Stram, to lead his team. Stram won an AFL title in 1962 while the franchise was still in Dallas,  and got the Chiefs into 2 of the first 4 Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl IV against Minnesota in the last true AFL/NFL matchup, as the 2 leagues merged formally to form the AFC and NFC Conferences the next year. Hunt was the first person associated with the AFL to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he was inducted in 1972, and after his death in 2006 a bronze statue honoring him was erected at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. In another honor bestowed upon him, the winner of the AFC Championship game each year is awarded the Lamar Hunt Trophy.


AFL founder Lamar Hunt


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