August 2, 1932|
El Dorado, Arkansas
|Died:||December 13, 2006
|High school:||Pottstown (PA) The Hill|
|Career highlights and awards|
Lamar Hunt (August 2, 1932 - December 13, 2006) was an American businessman and promoter of American football, association football, basketball, tennis and ice hockey in the United States, who along with his brothers Nelson Bunker Hunt and William Herbert Hunt also tried but failed to corner the world market in silver.
He was the principal founder of the American Football League (AFL) and Major League Soccer (MLS), as well as MLS's predecessor, the North American Soccer League (NASL), and co-founder of World Championship Tennis. He was also the founder and owner of the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League (NFL), the Kansas City Wizards of MLS, and at the time of his death owned two other MLS teams, Columbus Crew and FC Dallas. In Kansas City, Hunt also helped establish the Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun theme parks.
The oldest ongoing national soccer tournament in the United States, the U.S. Open Cup (founded 1914), now bears his name in honor of his pioneering role in that sport stateside. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972; into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1982; and into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993. The National Soccer Hall of Fame bestowed upon Hunt their Medal of Honor in 1999, an award given to only three recipients in history thus far. He was married for 42 years to his second wife Norma, and had four children, Sharron, Lamar Jr., Daniel, and Clark Hunt.
Hunt was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, the son of oil tycoon H. L. Hunt and younger brother of tycoons Nelson Bunker Hunt and William Herbert Hunt. Lamar was raised in Dallas, Texas. He attended Culver Military Academy and graduated from The Hill School in Pennsylvania in 1951 and Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1956, with a B.S. degree in geology. Hunt was a college football player who rode the bench but was still an avid sports enthusiast during his time in college and throughout his entire childhood. While attending SMU in 1952, Hunt joined the Kappa Sigma fraternity. In 1972, he was selected as Kappa Sigma's Man of the Year.
On the strength of his great inherited oil wealth, 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.
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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 one popular, though probably apocryphal, story, a reporter informed Hunt's father that the Texans had lost $1 million in their first season. In response, H.L. Hunt supposedly said, "At that rate, he can only last another 100 years." Lamar himself later said that the numbers mentioned in the story were "overly flattering." In 1963 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, 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, 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 Cup 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, 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.
Hunt returned to soccer as 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 second, and first since 1913, 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.
NHL: Hunt and John H. McConnell formed Columbus Hockey Limited, L.L.C. (CHL) in an effort to obtain a National Hockey League franchise for Columbus, Ohio. Following disagreements over the financing for an arena, McConnell accepted an offer to lease a new arena from Nationwide Insurance Enterprise. McConnell froze-out CHL and Hunt and was awarded the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets franchise. See McConnell v. Hunt Sports Enterprises, 132 Ohio App.3d 657, 725 N.E.2d 1193 (1999), a lawsuit that Lamar Hunt lost and thus granted McConnel sole ownership of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Amusement Parks and Caves: Hunt was also the founder of two theme parks in Kansas City: Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun, which opened in 1973 and 1982 respectively. The two parks were an outgrowth and adjoined a vast industrial park he developed in the bluffs above the Missouri River in Clay County, Missouri. Immediately south of the parks is the Hunt-developed SubTropolis, a 55,000,000 square foot (5,060,000 m2), 1,100-acre (4.5 km2) manmade limestone cave which is claimed to be the World's Largest Underground Business Complex (TM). Hunt's extensive business dealings in Clay County were to contribute to the Chiefs having their NFL Training Camp at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri until 1991.
Hunt was married twice. His first marriage to Rosemary Carr, ended in a divorce. He had two children from his first marriage. He remarried later to Norma Lynn Knobel, who he was married to until his death. He had three sons, Clark, Lamar Jr., and Daniel, as well as one daughter, Sharron Hunt.
Lamar Hunt died December 13, 2006, at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas of complications related to prostate cancer. Upon his death, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called Hunt, "a founder of the NFL as we know it today.... He's been an inspiration for me." Said Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers: "Lamar Hunt was one of the most influential owners in professional football over the past 40-plus years, 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." The Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, Kay Waldo Barnes, requested that all city flags fly at half-staff the following Thursday and Friday after Hunt's death.
Upon Hunt's death, his son Clark Hunt was named chairman of the Kansas City Chiefs and FC Dallas. He was elected by his other three siblings: Lamar Jr., Sharron Munson and Daniel.
In 2007, the Kansas City Chiefs honored Hunt and the AFL. The Chiefs 2007 Media Guide is full of images, logos and anecdotes about the league and each of its original teams. Also featured in the Guide and in the Chiefs 2007 Yearbook is a special AFL patch. The Yearbook's description of the patch states: "As part of a year-long tribute to Hunt in 2007, the Chiefs will wear a commemorative patch that prominently features the American Football League logo to serve as a reminder of Hunt's formation of the AFL and the lasting impact the American Football League has made on the game of professional football. The patch will be affixed to the left chest of both Kansas City's home and away jerseys, meaning this piece of woven symbolism will be worn over the heart of every Chiefs player." On January 31, 2008, Clark Hunt, Lamar Hunt's son and Chairman of the Chiefs, announced that henceforth, the patch will be a permanent part of the Chiefs uniform.
In 2007, the Columbus Crew honored their founder and owner by displaying a commemorative Lamar Hunt emblem on the left chest of both the home and away jerseys. The emblem consisted of the initials "LH" within a circle. Prior to the 2008 season, the Crew announced that the "LH" emblem will be a permanent patch on the left sleeve of the club's jerseys. In addition, Crew supporters groups have added the LH emblem to their scarves and banners. FC Dallas has similar tributes to Lamar, with the LH emblem on the back of their jersey and on scarves, banners, etc. After the Crew won the MLS Cup championship in 2008, the "LH" emblem was inscribed on the inside of the team's championship rings.