One on One: Carl Peterson- Part 1 of 5

Eighteen years ago, Carl Peterson was hired by the late Lamar Hunt to resurrect his floundering football franchise. After taking the league by storm in the 60's and early 70's, Hunt knew he needed to turn the operations over to a football man with a proven record.

After stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and the USFL's Philadelphia Stars, Peterson brought his experience to the Chiefs and made Arrowhead the most exciting atmosphere in the NFL. He filled empty seats with a style other stadiums have tried to emulate. At the end of the day, his business savvy might be second to none in the NFL.

For the Hunt family, that turnaround was sorely needed. The Chiefs haven't won a Super Bowl, but it's still a reality that nobody wants to win an AFC Championship for the Hunts more than Carl Peterson.

In this very candid one-on-one session, he talks about why he chose this crazy profession, and how the desire to be the man in charge took him from one Philly football team to another. He also discusses his relationship with the late Derrick Thomas.

Peterson also lets us in on what he likes and dislikes when he's dealing with player agents, the one player he wished never got away from the franchise (and has now returned), and that magical Monday Night moment on October 7,1991, when the Chiefs destroyed the Buffalo Bills.

Despite those that argue otherwise, Peterson above anyone else appreciates the loyalty of the Chiefs fan base and the energy in the parking lot before every home game.

Say what you want about some of his football decisions, but anyone who questions his loyalty to the Hunt family and to the entire Chiefs fan base just doesn't understand what he's all about. He's always been a winner, and right or wrong, he's done it his way.


WPI: Herm said at nine years old that he knew what he was going to do with his life. At what age did you know that football was going to be something that you were going to get into?

Carl Peterson: "Well, my brothers tell me that at a very young age I was organizing football leagues and teams in the local neighborhood. I guess I have some recollection of that, but I probably knew I wanted to be involved with it in high school when I was playing. After I got through playing and went to college at UCLA, I played very little there but got an opportunity to come back and coach at my high school, Long Beach Woodrow Wilson High School. I jumped at it and really enjoyed it. From that moment on, I certainly knew that I had to be involved with football. I took a respite at the United States Military Academy. I was an alternate as a senior in high school so I went to UCLA as a freshman."

"Even before freshman year concluded, the Congressman called and said, ‘I have another appointment, are you interested?' I said ‘absolutely,' and I went back and I was there about 15 months. When I got a chance to come home and go back up to UCLA I knew then that I wanted to go into coaching or be involved in football, and so it kept flashing back to the point that I just could not discard it. The game is a very unique game – it is a team thing. I guess that is an aspect I really like. It is the sum of all the parts – it is not an individual sport."

WPI: You obviously had a great career at UCLA, and that is where you first met Dick Vermeil. You moved to the Philadelphia Stars after that. The USFL was very similar to the old AFL. What was the one thing that made the Philadelphia Stars so good?

Carl Peterson: "We were in all three Championships and we won the last two out of three. First came the decision to leave the NFL, and I had been there for seven years with Dick and had moved into the front office as Director of Player Personnel, and was basically doing the GM's job. I was making trades and doing contracts with players and coaches and everybody and the draft and so forth, but I knew that if I stayed there I was not going to be able to run the whole show. The ownership, Leonard Tose, was grooming his daughter to take over."

"So, this opportunity came and initially I said ‘No, I am not interested,' but Dick actually said, ‘look, this is a terrific opportunity and I hate to lose you, but you really ought to look at it.' So I did, but I think the thing besides the opportunity to run the whole show, the thing that intrigued me, was starting something from the first paperclip and starting a new league, a professional football league, which I certainly had some experience with – but at a different time of the year, in the spring – pro football in the spring, and then being able to really put it together, like I said, from the very first hire. That's a great challenge. I knew that it was fraught with possible problems as previous pro football leagues had started and failed, but I really felt good about the ownership. We had a contract with ABC and ESPN and the quality of the coaches and players that we were able to initially attract, I was very, very pleased with."

"Our ownership in Philadelphia with the Stars said ‘who are you going to hire?' I said, ‘I am going to hire Jim Mora.' They said, ‘who in the heck is Jim Mora?' I said, ‘I think Jim Mora is one of the great coaches coming up.' We had coached together at UCLA and he was the defensive coordinator at New England at the time, so I had to wait as they were in the playoffs, to get through that. So, I got Jim and then we had to run fast and went to the Senior Bowl. I am signing players. I am signing Irv Eatman and Kelvin Bryant and Bart Oates, and he is hiring the coaching staff."

"Anyway, we got started. The league had spring practice, if you will, in Florida and in Arizona – half the teams at each one. We were down in Florida, Stetson College. We got up and running and it took off. It was very popular. It was the highest-rated sports program on ESPN, of course, but we grew dramatically from year one to year two in Philadelphia and then, unfortunately, guys like Donald Trump and Eddie Einhorn, they got ownership and said ‘we are going to change this to the fall' and we didn't stay with our original plan, which was basically five years and lets crawl before we walk and walk before we run, and let's see where we are in five years."

"But, they couldn't wait. And, we voted against it and so ultimately, we proved without a shadow of a doubt that the National Football League is a monopoly. It is a violation of the anti-Sherman trust law, but the problem is, they said, ‘NFL you are guilty, but there are a lot of wealthy owners in the USFL, so the damages will be one dollar.' So, after…I took a little hiatus. I was in the media business. We had Philly Sport Magazine and I was the CEO of that for less than a year and then I got a call from Lamar and, you know, I had looked at some other places – the Jets and the Cowboys, but because of his reputation, I really, really thought this would be the right place and he did too. Lamar mentioned to me, ‘you were in the NFL for a while and then you left to go to this rebel USFL. I did the same thing. I kind of liked that about you."

"When you come up the elevator and the doors open here on the second floor, that is the American League Football Championship Trophy. So, when I came in and I saw that, I said, ‘you know Lamar, I have the USFL Championship Trophy. Would you mind if I have it here?' I ended up with it, and I'm going to give it to the Hall of Fame, who has asked for it. I said, ‘when I retire, you've got it, Lamar.' But, I said, ‘I am keeping it right here, because we are a bit of a rebel league here.' I know Lamar like that. How do you turn down a guy like that? I never thought I would be here 18 seasons, but this is the 18th."

Tomorrow: Part 2

This article originally appeared in Warpaint Illustrated the Magazine. If you want more information about the only Magazine Dedicated to the Kansas City Chiefs, hit the banner below to learn how you can get 56 issues of Sports Illustrated when you order Warpaint Illustrated the magazine.

 

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