One on One: Clark Hunt - Part I

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Chiefs Chairman of the Board Clark Hunt for the first time. It was a bit daunting, to be honest with you, because we're roughly the same age, but I found him incredibly gracious, kind and sincere. Before the start of the 2007 regular season, we sat down to discuss a variety of things.

Clark talked candidly about growing up in the organization and the legacy that his father, the late Lamar Hunt, built for this city and the entire Chiefs nation. He talked about the enormous responsibility of carrying on that tradition. It's clear he's not his father, but nonetheless there are striking similarities in their personalities.

WPI: What was your very first memory of the Kansas City Chiefs as a child?

Clark Hunt: "Probably one of my first recollections, and unfortunately it's not a happy one, was the Christmas Day game. It's literally the first game I remember, and probably about the only game I remember from that stadium, and of course that was the last game we played in that stadium. I remember sitting in the press box, and the game dragging on and on and on, and at some point I fell asleep on the counter. But before I did that, I also remember Stenerud missing the field goal. I'm not sure, as a small child, if I had a lot of context on that, but I knew it wasn't good. I woke up and it was over and it was a bad result."

WPI: At an early age did you have any idea what this franchise was about? You knew your father, Lamar, was the owner. But growing up did you understand the enormity of his passion for his football team?

Hunt: "As a child I'm not sure I fully appreciated my father's involvement with the league. I do remember, vividly, the weekend when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They took me up there that weekend and included me in most of the festivities. I was something on the order of magnitude of seven years old. I'm sure I don't remember or didn't understand the significance of it. I'm sure the same thing would be true with the team. I was very much involved in sports myself at that point, but not playing football. But getting to be around these big athletes, that was neat, just like it would be for any kid."

WPI: In your early teens, you had an opportunity to be a ball boy at training camp. What was your perception of these athletes as a 13 and 14-year old boy?

Hunt: "They were, to a large degree, fun-loving guys who were extremely talented. They loved what they were doing, and all that made a big impression on me. Of course, the line blurs from when I was say 13 or 14, to when I became a ball boy for three years, and was really around them on a daily basis. That was a wonderful experience and I was just thinking this week, being here for training camp, really brought back so many memories."

"The players called me ‘Little Hunt' or ‘the little man,' and things like that, so they were certainly aware of it and when given a chance, they were happy to poke fun at me. I didn't mind. Probably the most intimidating experience from being a ball boy was wake-up duty in the morning. I had to go door to door, knocking on the doors, waking players up at six. And of course these are very large grown men who were extremely tired at that point in camp, and I remember one time I knocked on a door and it was not latched. The door swung open and I just saw these eyes pop open at me from the bed. I scurried on down the hall to the next room."

"It was truly a great experience. I was playing football at that point. I was a kicker/punter/quarterback/defensive back, and did a lot of things at a very small school, so getting to be around the guys who were literally the best in the world at that was a super experience for me. I learned a lot about how a pro football team operates."

WPI: What was it like being the son of someone so famous and successful? Did you ever think you would play pro football?

Clark Hunt: "I'm an extremely competitive person, so I think regardless of my father's involvement in the sports industry I was destined to play sports growing up. I played a lot of different sports, and over time it sort of gravitated toward football and soccer. The fact that he was Lamar Hunt and had done all of this in the sports business wasn't really a factor in my head. Now, I was certainly aware – when we went to games a lot of times the fans on the other team would run into him and be aware of how he was, so that was going on off the field. What was happening on the field was completely independent."

WPI: When you went to college, did you know what you wanted to do? You knew you could get into the family business but it seems like maybe that wasn't the primary choice?

Hunt: "Like a lot of high school graduates going into college, you don't know what you want to do, and I really had no clue. I went to a school, SMU, that insisted on you having a very broad curriculum the first year and a half. Over time I gravitated toward the business school, where I ended up being a finance major. It was a little bit different path than my father had taken – he was a geology major, which really related back to his family's business. But at the end of the day, that's not really what he did, either. Just shows you that college kids don't necessarily always get it right. The fact that I went the finance route was probably a pretty good match with my interests and talents and so forth. I definitely was not looking down the line thinking I was going to be involved with these sports businesses my father had started."

WPI: How supportive was your father in your desire to do something different than beginning your business career outside of the Chiefs organization?

Hunt: "He was really fantastic in that regard. He never pushed me - and the same was true with my siblings – to do what he wanted me to do. He let us be our own individuals and pursue things that we enjoyed. My older brother ended up being a professional musician, and to my knowledge my father had no musical ability. He was great in that regard, and whatever we were involved with he was always about helping us do well at it. I couldn't have asked for a better role model in that regard."

"Probably somewhere in the back of his mind he hoped one day I'd return and get involved with what he was doing, but he never said it."

WPI: Was getting involved with Major League Soccer the first real taste of working with your dad in that kind of environment?

Hunt: "Yeah, it sure was. At this point I'd been back in Dallas about five years, and he grabbed me and had me attend some meetings with him about this new league that was getting together back in 1995. I was happy to do it and I had played soccer in college, had contacts with the sport. There was also a financial aspect in it that we were being presented a new business plan. He wanted me to take it and dissect it and tell me what I thought about it."

WPI: Do you think this was his way of trying to pull you into the family business?

Hunt: "It may have been, indirectly, although I'm not sure he was really thinking that many steps down the road. I think he was thinking that the World Cup, here in 1994, had been so successful, and he had been a believer in the sport at that point for 30 or so years. He felt the time was right to get back in the business, and certainly was interested in involving me with him."

WPI: Soon afterward he started taking you to NFL meetings and things like that. Could you see yourself sliding into the role as head of the Chiefs?

Hunt: "The first time that you're in the room with all the owners, it's definitely one that'll open your eyes. It's somewhat intimidating and I was there with my father, who was so respected. It was interesting to see how much respect he received from the other owners, whether they'd been involved in the league for 40 years or four years. That was really special. It was a completely new experience and I had the contrast of major league soccer, which was a startup enterprise, and the NFL, which was fairly well established. Getting to see it from both ends was interesting and helpful."

Log on to Warpaintillustrated.com tomorrow for the second part of our exclusive chat with Clark Hunt.


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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