Forty-seven years ago, a small coterie of businessmen of varying backgrounds and degrees of wealth gathered with the notion of launching a football league.
They called those men “The Foolish Club,” but a new football concern wasn’t the wildest proposition; just nine years earlier the NFL had absorbed the All-America Football Conference into its ranks, an annexation that brought two franchises that would become among sport’s most beloved in the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers. (The Baltimore Colts, on the other hand, would not fare so well, though the name would be resurrected in 1953.)
The AFL would endure its ups and downs. Two of its original eight teams relocated within the league’s first three years. Another changed names, with the New York Titans becoming the Jets after Sonny Werblin and Leon Hess bought the team from founding owner Harry Wismer.
Eventually, though, the league flourished, and Lamar Hunt was in many ways its guiding light, first bringing together the founding owners and then sticking with the fledgling AFL after the NFL opted to expand to his hometown of Dallas. The AFL’s persistence and growing popularity eventually forced a merger with the NFL and the creation of a championship game — one whose name drew from Hunt observing his daughter playing with a Super Ball. Super Ball … Super Bowl … and a paragon of the American cultural lexcion was born.
Such is Hunt’s importance to the sport that the AFC championship trophy is named for him; six of his eponymous pieces of silverware sit in the lobby of Broncos headquarters, testament to their success in rising from AFL also-ran to perennial AFC contender.
The NFL that you recognize might not exist today were it not for Hunt and the other members of what was called the “Foolish Club” of owners who founded the American Football League.
Today, Hunt fights for his life in a Dallas hospital. After battling prostate cancer for eight years, he took ill with a collapsed lung last month, causing him to miss the Thanksgiving night showdown between his beloved Chiefs and the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. Further examination revealed that the cancer has spread, and he has been hospitalized ever since.
“There’s not any improvement,” Chiefs president Carl Peterson said. “He’s giving it everything he can. The doctors are also. We hope and pray for good results.”
If you spent even a small part of your life giving a damn about the Broncos, any of the teams that rose to NFL stability out of those fledgling days of the early 1960s, or even the growth of soccer in the United States, a sporting cause that Hunt held dear for years, manifesting itself in the 1994 World Cup and the creation of Major League Soccer — keep Hunt in your prayers. Without his efforts four decades ago, there might not be the Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers, Bills, Patriots, Titans, Jets or their two AFL expansion followers in Cincinnati and Miami.