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Archive for Saturday, December 16, 2006

Commentary: Hunt shelved ego for good of game

December 16, 2006

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America has lost its last great sportsman.

Lamar Hunt, founder of the American Football League and a Hall of Famer in three sports, died Wednesday night from complications due to cancer.

Hunt wasn't a rich guy who aspired to be a sportsman. He was a sportsman who happened to be rich. The choices the Dallas oilman made in life were always in the best interest of his sports, not his wallet.

That set him apart from the new breed of franchise owners in America. Hunt didn't involve himself in sports for wealth or ego. His involvement was based on his love for the games, not a love of himself. It was always about the "sports," never about the "man."

If Hunt was in it for the fame or fortune, he'd have become the owner of the NFL Cowboys in 1960. He also never would have involved himself in pro tennis, pro soccer or the NBA. But all four sports were enriched from his participation.

Hunt wanted to bring pro football to his hometown of Dallas in the 1950s and was steered by the NFL to the Wolfner family, who owned the struggling Chicago Cardinals.

But having been rebuffed twice by the Wolfners, Hunt decided to start his own league - the AFL - and recruited fellow millionaires Bud Adams, Barron Hilton, Ralph Wilson and three others to own the franchises.

The NFL tried to short-circuit Hunt's plan by offering him an expansion team in Dallas in 1960. If Hunt was in it for his own ego, he'd have accepted that offer. This time, the mighty NFL was coming to him.

What Hunt did next certainly wasn't in his own best interest, but rather the best interest of the fledgling AFL. He showed his integrity by turning down the NFL.

"I had actively sought people for a new league," Hunt said. "I wasn't in a position to desert them."

His Texans stayed in Dallas for three seasons, battling the Cowboys head-to-head for football fans. The Texans drew larger crowds than the Cowboys and won the state's first pro football championship in 1962.

If it was about his ego, Hunt would have continued to fight the Cowboys for his home turf - a fight he was capable of winning with his fortune and philosophy of signing the best players from the state.

But again, he put aside his own ego and acted in the best interest of the AFL. Hunt moved the Texans to Kansas City, where they became the Chiefs in 1963.

"It was a matter of economics," Hunt said. "We needed to have a successful league, so we needed eight teams that could succeed. We were not succeeding in Dallas. Neither were the Cowboys. It was kind of a standoff.

"It was hard . . . emotional. I was a Dallas resident since 1938."

Hunt also was an original investor in the Chicago Bulls - and when he died still owned 11 percent of the NBA franchise. He attended championship-clinching games in the 1990s, sitting in the stands. But he never went to the locker room afterward, and he never even met Michael Jordan.

Hunt won championships in basketball, football and soccer. But the success of his teams was never about him. You never saw Hunt on the sideline at NFL games or in television views from his stadium suite. He stayed in the background, forcing the spotlight to focus on his teams, not himself.

It was always about the sport, never about the man. Dallas, the NFL and the American sporting scene won't be the same without him.

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