Remembering Lamar Hunt

The accolades poured in on Thursday after the passing of Kansas City Chiefs Founder Lamar Hunt. Today I want to say thanks to the man who is responsible for giving me one of the greatest passions I've ever known in my life – his football team.

The only thing I remember about the first AFL-NFL Championship game (now referred to as Super Bowl I) is the fact my grandparents and parents attended the game. I'm sure if I could have been upset about it I would have, but likely I was more concerned about who the babysitter was while they were out of town.

I spent the first few years of my life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My family adored the Green Bay Packers. I met my first NFL star when I was four years old. It was Paul Hornung, and he was in my living room of all places.

My grandfather had a business in downtown Milwaukee. When we moved to Kansas City I became a Chiefs fan, but out of respect for my grandfather I rooted for the Packers when reasonable. But what is reasonable to a five-year-old boy? I did my best.

A couple years later I met Lamar Hunt for the first time at a picnic. I was six years old and my father introduced him as the Chiefs owner, as if I didn't already know. I was shaking the hand of someone who would shape my character as a Chiefs fan, but at the time I was probably more worried about getting another scoop of ice cream.

When the Chiefs headed to New Orleans to face the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV, my parents left me behind. I was incensed. With my eighth birthday around the corner I took pride in knowing how to spell the name of every Chiefs player.

I was upset, but my parents tried to make it up to me. When the Chiefs returned from New Orleans my parents took me down to the old Municipal Airport and we waited for the team to return. The place was packed and, standing at a whopping four feet nothing, I couldn't see anything. I was not a happy camper.

As the team came into the terminal the cheers were deafening. For my young ears, it was the loudest thing I had heard. It felt like a concert atmosphere. I loved it, except I couldn't see a darn thing.

As the team walked past us I saw Bobby Bell, who nodded, and Len Dawson gave me a smile. I was in heaven. It no longer mattered if I'd been to the game or not because I was able to enjoy this big party. It was far cooler than any of the Christmas presents I received a few days earlier.

As the line moved forward and we started to move with them, Lamar Hunt emerged from the crowd. He flashed that great smile as my father congratulated him, and then he shook my young, excited hand.

"Nick, did you like that game?" Hunt asked me out of the blue.

"Yes sir!" I replied, excited.

How in the world did he remember my name? Who was I to Lamar Hunt? He was the owner of my football team, and I was just a runt. How did he recall our chance meeting of a few years earlier?

Ask anyone in the Chiefs organization and they'll tell you that Hunt never forgot anyone's name. He took great pride in trying to understand and learn everything about the families that worked for him. That's what made him so special.

As we start the mourning process, stories like mine are being repeated throughout the country. Every single NFL fan around the world owes a debt of gratitude to Lamar Hunt. People my age in cities like Houston, San Diego, Denver, Oakland, Buffalo, New York, Cincinnati, Miami and Kansas City might not enjoy the caliber of football they do today if Hunt hadn't convinced his seven billionaire buddies, affectionately known as the ‘Fool's Club,' to invest in the AFL.

Over the years I ran into Hunt a few times before I started covering the Chiefs for Warpaint Illustrated. He was always kind and shook my hand before we starting talking about the Chiefs. The impression he always gave is that when we conversed, I was the only thing on his mind.

The last time I saw him was in St. Louis, after the Chiefs played the Rams this year. He was walking with a cane as the disease he'd been battling the last eight years had clearly taken its toll.

I asked him how he was doing and he told me he was fine. He asked how I was and I congratulated him on the big win that day. He was proud of the win and he congratulated every member of the team, but I knew he wasn't doing well.

When I learned a week ago it was unlikely he would make it out of the hospital, I was sad, to say the least. I thought about what my life would have been in Kansas City without the Chiefs. I wondered if I'd still be living in this city, because I've moved away twice. One of the reasons I returned both times was the Chiefs.

For the most part, I've always had a positive outlook toward the Chiefs, primarily because Hunt did. He was always smiling and he never let on that he was ever disappointed about anything involving his football team.

As I look back on the last 40-plus years of my life as a Chiefs fan, it nearly overwhelms me to think how much joy this football team has brought me.

I'm proud of Lamar Hunt for having the courage to fight the establishment back in the 60's and forge ahead to bring so many people a new brand of football.

On the day he decided to head the ‘Fool's Club,' he changed the lives of millions of people. Those people have spent the last 46 years working, living and loving pro football all over the country.

Imagine what we all would have missed without Lamar Hunt's vision.

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