An Obituary: 'Dallas' Other NFL Owner'

IRVING, Texas - For the title of "Dallas' Most Influencial NFL Owner,'' Jerry Jones had welcome competition.

Lamar Hunt is dead at 74, and his legacy -- "how the back of his football card would read,'' as one ESPN anchor phrased it -- is deep. It was at the tender age of 28 when the oil heir assembled some wealthy friends and and created the American Football League, the group of investors Hunt self-mockingly labeled "The Foolish Club." They were so foolish that they set out to take on the powerful National Football League, and a decade later, there was Lamar, sitting at the same exact table and at the same exact level with the powerful Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm. The meeting took place in the lobby of Dallas' Love Field Airport. What came of the meeting?

Lamar Hunt brokered the merger between the upstart AFL and the haughty NFL.

Lamar's football baby was the Kansas City Chiefs. He was a minority owner of the NBA's Chicago Bulls. He had a major hand in the development of pro soccer in this country and was the owner of the FC Dallas franchise. There is barely enough room in cyberspace to list his accomplishments and contributions. But in my judgement, the iconic nature of his contributions is best measured in two bites:

1) Hunt's daughter, Sharron, was the beneficiary of a popular kids' gift back in Christmas1968: a bouncy red "Super Ball." Lamar stole the name, reshaped it, and christened the annual title game played between the AFL and the NFL (now of course, the AFC and the NFC) "The Super Bowl.'' (It is said that NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle's nominated name was "The Big One.'') Oh and by the way: that very ball, that little red bouncy rubber sphere, is on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2) The AFC Championship Trophy is named after him. That puts him in a pantheon of football importance right there with Vince Lombardi and George Halas. And in regard to his gigantic impact, that says it all.

But there is so much more about the man who succumbed this week to cancer after being hospitalized at Thanksgiving with a collapsed lung. Having interviewed him many times because of his Dallas ties, what stands out to me is the distinct style he brought to the table. He spoke so quietly, almost in a whisper, that the listener truly had to lean into him to hear. ... and the lean-in was always worth it.

He was immensely likeable, did not have a boasting bone in his body, actually played a little football at SMU (but seemed too humble to ever mention it), and drove around town up until his illness in a Ford Escort. I've been on a plane with Lamar Hunt numerous times, and it was not a Lear Jet, or any sort of chartered plane. He flew commercial. Coach, too.

He existed in the NFL in the same world as Jerry Jones, who besides being a marketing genius, possessing of boundless energy, and likeable (to those who truly get to know Jerry, anyway) is too flashy to share many characteristics with Lamar Hunt. He existed in the same neighborhood of Dallas with Jerry, too. Maybe only in the NFL could two personalities this divergent help guide a business superpower.

I will add, though, that there is one curveball in the Hunt legacy. Lamar was pivotal in convincing the league and the TV networks that the Thanksgiving games shouldn't be limited to Dallas and Detroit. Hunt's campaigning won out, and his Chiefs were allowed to host the first prime-time Turkey Day game, the third game of that day a month ago.

However, all the kinks are still not worked out. As you know if you're not an NFL Network subscriber, you can't see the Cowboys-Falcons game this Saturday. So it was for Mr. Hunt. He was in the hospital on Thanksgiving, as we mentioned. His Chiefs were on TV. But they weren't on the hospital's TV, because it didn't have access to the NFL Network. So he was unable to even watch another of his creations on television.

An ironic twist to an iconic story.

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