Amidst all this melancholic hand-wringing about the boys in blue, as a pro football website it's quite incumbent upon us to remark upon the passing of Kansas City Chiefs founder and owner Lamar Hunt. He died this week at the age of 74, having suffered from prostate cancer.
No shortlist of people most pivotal to the development of the NFL as we know it would be complete without Hunt's name. His most known contribution to the sport may be his coining of the phrase "Super Bowl." But his lesser-known contributions had more impact on the sport.
Hunt was the father of the AFC, having formed the American Football League in 1960, in consort with other would-be team owners who had been rebuffed by the NFL. As owner of the Dallas Texans, Hunt brought pro football permanently to the Lone Star State, along with the Houston Oilers. Though the Texans were successful on the field, they had to compete with the new NFL franchise, the Dallas Cowboys, for fan loyalty. He moved the team to Kansas City in 1963.
For many NFL fans the Chiefs were their first introduction to the AFL, thanks to their appearance in the first AFL-NFL Championship Game against the Packers in 1966. Hunt nicknamed the game the Super Bowl, and the moniker stuck. Although the AFL wasn't taken seriously as equals until the Jets pulled off their famous upset against the Colts in Super Bowl III, Hunt's Chiefs sealed the AFL's legitimacy by winning Super Bowl IV. The next year the two leagues merged, and Hunt's upstart league had attained its goal: to be seen as equals with the established football powers of the time.
Hunt turned Kansas City into one of the NFL's cornerstone franchises, a standing they still bear today. That's pretty inarguable. By all accounts, Hunt was a reserved and deferential man, fiercely respected by other owners, and certainly adored by the coaches and players who worked for him.
Hunt was instrumental in the racial integration of pro football -- when he came into the business in 1960, segregation of black players was still pretty standard in a lot of franchises, even as progress in civil rights was being made. But Hunt quite rightly refused to consider color as an issue in stocking his team, right from the start. He was also an important figure in developing the NFL's revenue-sharing plan, which went a long way towards evening out the competitive playing field in medium-size football markets.
Hunt was one of those figures who transcended regionality and contributed to the sport -- not just the game. Owners of his constitution and are rarer these days, but hopefully his vision and accomplishments will stand as a benchmark.