Part 1 of 4 Lamar Hunt Series
“I’m really honored to receive this lifetime achievement award.” –Lamar Hunt
Whether or not you’ve heard the name Lamar Hunt, you’ve felt his influence if you love the game of football; or, as you’ll learn soon, sports in general. Lamar Hunt was not a big man nor was he a great player but he was a rebel and an innovator – two things that shook the foundations of the NFL® and turned it into the powerhouse sport that replaced baseball as America’s pastime. Lamar Hunt is a Dallas, Texas icon who was born the son of Dallas oil tycoon H.L. Hunt; who made his wealth trading poker winnings for oil rights, much of it to the East Texas Oil Field. The intrigue of H.L. Hunt and his fourteen children by three wives actually inspired the famous T.V. show Dallas.
Early Years of the AFL and Expansion Teams
As a wealthy young man who loved sports, Lamar Hunt was both willing and able to invest in the sports world as an owner. With no major football franchise in the big city of Dallas (the NFL®’s defunct Dallas Texans lasted only one season in 1952), Hunt petitioned the NFL® and its then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle for an NFL® expansion team but was turned down for what the NFL® later described as a careful approach not to oversaturate the market by expanding too quickly from its then 12-team league. Hunt then tried, unsuccessfully, to buy the Chicago Cardinals NFL® franchise and move them to Dallas but he was again denied.
According to his profile at profootballhof.com, Hunt being very frustrated by the NFL®’s lack of desire to expand grouped together other like-minded millionaires who had also been turned down by the NFL® for franchise expansions and founded the American Football League (AFL) in 1959. Hunt was not only the architect of the AFL but he was also a founder and owner of his own franchise. Hunt founded his own Dallas Texans while his AFL dream also created the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans), the Denver Broncos, the Buffalo Bills, the Los Angeles Chargers (later moved to San Diego), the Boston Patriots (later renamed New England), the New York Titans (later sold and renamed the Jets), and a Minneapolis-St. Paul group who had agreed to a team.
Having fended off five failed attempts by other football leagues to cut in on their action, the NFL® had very little concern for the AFL at its inception but wanted to stamp out any competition quickly by offering minority stakes in current teams to the AFL owners and/or promises to future expanding teams. Only the Minneapolis-St. Paul group of the AFL sided with the NFL® and they were given the expansion franchise of the NFL® Minnesota Vikings which began operations in 1961. With the AFL one team short of its eight-team league, they looked for another city. The NFL® sold off the Chicago Cardinals and moved them to St. Louis in order to eliminate it as a possible AFL city. L.A. Chargers owner Barron Hilton (owner of the Hilton Hotel chain) demanded to Hunt and the other owners that the new team be in California to help offset costs and create a rivalry to fill the stands. The AFL brought on the Oakland Raiders as their final team for their inaugural season.
With their expansion into Minnesota slated for the 1961 season, the NFL® decided it needed to continue to try to stamp out the AFL immediately by awarding Dallas an NFL® expansion team to compete directly with AFL founder Hunt’s Dallas Texans team in 1960. The Dallas Cowboys, “America’s Team” and the most popular NFL® franchise to date was founded because of Lamar Hunt and his renegade AFL. Despite the success of Hunt’s Texans and the terrible play of the Cowboys, football fans and their money sided with the NFL® and its Cowboys. Hunt knew he couldn’t compete with the NFL® in the same market so he moved his Texans to Kansas City and renamed them the Chiefs.
Hunt and the AFL wanted to expand their league after their first five years were successful and awarded Rankin Smith a franchise in Atlanta. The NFL®, as it had in the past with the Vikings franchise, countered the AFL’s offer to an owner with an offer of their own and Rankin accepted, founding the Atlanta Falcons as an NFL® team in 1966. Not to be outdone, the AFL turned around and created an expansion team in another city, founding the Miami Dolphins. The AFL added its 10th and final team in 1967 as Hall-of-Fame head coach Paul Brown was awarded the Cincinnati Bengals expansion franchise as part of the AFL/NFL® merger agreement.
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