For 47 years, Lamar Hunt was one of pro football’s guiding lights, first as one of the American Football League’s owners, then as one of the men who brokered the AFL-NFL merger that assured the stability of the young league’s 10 member clubs, and eventually as an owner whose franchise became one of the most passionately supported in the sport, a club that represents one-quarter of perhaps the most historically competitive quartet in recent decades, a group that has combined for 14 of the AFL/AFC’s 41 Super Bowl appearances.
Wednesday night, Hunt lost an eight-year battle with prostate cancer, but not before a fight that demonstrated the indefatigable persistence that is essential for the finest practicioners of the sports he cherished and lovingly helped nourish to their place on the American landscape.
“Lamar Hunt was one of the finest owners in the history of professional football and one of America’s greatest sportsmen,” Broncos President/CEO Pat Bowlen said. “It has been my privilege to work with and compete against Lamar. It was an honor for me to have a close relationship with Lamar and with his family, and that came out of 23 years of working together and competing against each other. In my early years Lamar had a significant influence on me as a new owner in the league. My condolences go to Norma and to his entire family, as well as to the Kansas City Chiefs organization.”
Hunt’s presence will endure. His name brandishes both the AFC Championship trophy and the U.S. Open Cup, given to the winner of this nation’s annual club-level soccer tournament. He also is a member of three different American sports halls of fame: pro football, tennis — in which he founded World Championship Tennis, a body that legitimized the sport on a professional level — and soccer.
The tributes to the patriarch of the AFL and the AFC are already numerous, and if you’re a student of the game’s history, they’re a treat to read, whether you already know the story of Hunt’s life in sport or just now learning of the soft-spoken owner’s booming impact on sport in this country.
- At kcchiefs.com, the club’s official Web site culled together a splendid collection of articles that chronicle Hunt’s life inside and outside of football, and what he meant to the Chiefs franchise and beyond.
- The Chiefs’ site also has a biography looking back at Hunt’s life.
- Former Dallas Cowboys scouting director Gil Brandt looks back at the days when his infant team shared Dallas with Hunt’s Texans before the franchise moved to Kansas City and was rechristened the Chiefs.
- On ESPN.com, former Dallas sports columnist Frank Luksa recounts the steps Hunt took to get into the business of professional football.
- Also on ESPN.com, long-time soccer writer Frank Dell’Apa chronicles Hunt’s passion for what many Americans view as the “other” football — a.k.a. soccer.
On behalf of football fans everywhere, thank you, Mr. Hunt, for helping make this sport what it is — a national passion that brings millions together, in groups large and small. My immediate family has spent the better part of the last decade scattered in different states, but pro football has been one of the beacons to give us a common frame of reference in our often disparate existences; spread in different places, the sport had grown into one of national importance, one that gave us experiences to share. For that, we owe a debt of thanks to many … chief among these a man whose ownership of one team was only the beginning of his imprint on the sport.
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