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Hunt, Lamar

HUNT, Lamar

(b. 2 August 1932 in El Dorado, Arkansas), founder of the American Football League, professional sports promoter, and founder and owner of the Kansas City Chiefs who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972, the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1982, and the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993.

Hunt was one of six children born to Harold Lafayette "June" Hunt, Jr., an oil executive, and Lyda Bunker Hunt, a homemaker. The family moved to Tyler, Texas, in late 1933 and in 1938 relocated to Dallas, Texas, where Hunt's father established the offices of the Hunt Oil Company. As a youngster Hunt and his older brother Bunker Hunt read the newspaper and digested the sports page by discussing the box scores and attendance numbers of various sporting events. Lamar Hunt received his high school education at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where he played halfback and served as captain of the varsity team during his senior year.

In 1952, after his high school graduation, Hunt returned to Dallas and entered Southern Methodist University, where he majored in geology. He continued his interest in sports when he joined the Southern Methodist University football team and played for four years at the wide receiver position. Short and thin (under six feet tall), Hunt played sparingly and never lettered in the sport.

While Hunt was at Southern Methodist he began to dabble in the sports business. As an undergraduate he built a batting cage, where he charged individuals a quarter to bat ten balls. The batting cage was a successful venture, and he soon added a watermelon concession stand. Later he opened a miniature golf course, but that venture failed.

In 1956 Hunt graduated from Southern Methodist University with a degree in geology. Shortly after his graduation he married Rose Mary Carr, but the couple, who had no children, divorced in 1962. In August 1959 Hunt became frustrated because he could not acquire a National Football League (NFL) franchise team for the city of Dallas. He created a rival league, the American Football League (AFL), financed by the Hunt family oil wealth. Hunt formed the Dallas Texans to play in the league, and over the next few months six more teams across the country affiliated with the AFL.

The newly created league and team faced stiff competition from the National Football League, which also established a Dallas franchise. In May 1963 Hunt moved the Dallas Texans to Kansas City, where no other professional football team operated, and the Dallas Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs. A year later Hunt married Norma Lynn Knobel. They had four children. The two football conferences continued to battle each other for supremacy, and finally in the spring of 1966 the two leagues merged. Hunt, who figured prominently in the merger negotiations, served as the AFL representative in talks with the Dallas Cowboy owner Tex Schramm and the NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. Hunt was also instrumental in negotiating the first football television contract for the AFL teams. In 1970 Hunt's Kansas City Chiefs captured a Super Bowl victory for their owner.

Hunt did not limit his interest in investing and promoting professional sports to football. In 1966 he purchased an 11.25 percent interest in the Chicago Bulls basketball team and founded the Dallas Tornado, a North American Soccer League franchise. A year later, in 1967, he founded the World Championship Tennis tour.

Prior to 1967 the International Lawn Tennis Federation supervised the sport of tennis. Lamar's competing organization, the World Championship Tennis Tour, signed to professional contracts players who played on a newly created professional tennis circuit. Hunt originally envisioned a circuit of linked tennis tournaments that would culminate in one final playoff tournament of the world's best players. Unfortunately the World Championship Tennis tour ended in 1989 because Hunt's circuit increasingly faced competition from other promoters who wished to manage and promote their own tennis events. When the Association of Tennis Professionals reorganized the men's tour in 1990, they left out the World Championship Tennis circuit, which led to its demise. Despite Hunt's critics, he was inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993 for his tireless effort to support and promote professional tennis.

Another of Hunt's lasting contributions to sports promotion came with his support of professional soccer in the United States. In 1967 the Dallas Tornado, a professional soccer team owned by Hunt, took the field as an inaugural member of the North American Soccer League (NASL). The Tornado won the NASL soccer championship in 1971. Unfortunately the team folded in 1982, which left Hunt without a professional soccer team to support. Ironically, the same year the Tornado folded Hunt was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame for promoting the sport.

Hunt's interest and promotion of sports outside of foot-ball did not sit well with his fellow professional football franchise owners. Some owners wanted Hunt to divest himself of all his holdings even though the league allowed its owners to have minority interests in other professional sports franchises. Hunt refused to comply and continued to promote professional sports outside of football.

In 1996 Hunt once again promoted and invested in professional soccer by becoming the owner of two teams, the Columbus Crew and the Kansas City Wizards, in the newly organized Major League Soccer (MLS) circuit. The Crew played for its first three years in Ohio State University's football stadium, but Hunt realized the team needed its own facility. At a cost of $28.5 million he bankrolled a 22,485-seat stadium that opened to the public in 1999. The Wizards played in Arrowhead Stadium, home to Hunt's Kansas City Chiefs. In the 2000 Major League Soccer Championship game, the Wizards defeated the Chicago Fire to win their first MLS title.

Hunt, best known as the founder of the American Football League and the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, is also remembered for tirelessly promoting professional soccer and tennis. His induction into the football, soccer, and tennis halls of fame validates his success as a professional sports promoter.

Biographical data and information regarding Hunt's role in founding the American Football League and the Kansas City Chiefs is in Joe McGuff, Winning It All: The Chiefs of the AFL (1970); Don Kowet, The Rich Who Own Sports (1977); Harry Hurt III, Texas Rich: The Hunt Dynasty from the Early Oil Days Through the Silver Crash (1981); and David Harris, The League: The Rise and Decline of the NFL (1986). Information concerning Hunt's role in the World Championship Tennis Tour is in Peter Bodo, "When April Wasn't the Cruelest Month," Tennis (Apr. 1995). Hunt's interest in professional soccer is discussed in Ian Thomsen and Kevin Cook, "Taking Out a Mortgage on the Future," Sports Illustrated (31 May 1999).

Jon E. Taylor

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