- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

I must admit to knowing very little about Lamar Hunt before reading about his death. Of course, I knew him as the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and a pioneer of the American Football League, but that’s pretty much where my knowledge started and ended.

Hunt, as I learned over the last 24 hours, was one of the most influential businessmen in the history of American sports.

Back in 1959, Hunt unsuccessfully tried to convince the NFL to expand. At the time, baseball was still the most popular sport in the nation, and NFL officials were fearful of “oversaturating” the market. It’s a notion that seems utterly laughable today. Hunt reacted to the rejection by getting together with some buddies and forming the AFL. He became owner of the Dallas Texans, a team that competed directly with the Cowboys for fans. Realizing this was a tall order, he moved the Texans to Kansas City in 1963, renaming them the Chiefs. That worked pretty well for Hunt; the Chiefs have proven to be among the most popular teams in football history, have played in arguably the best stadium, and won Super Bowl IV.

Immediately after that Super Bowl win in 1970, the AFL and NFL merged, and Hunt was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Curiously, while Hunt was getting praise for his accomplishments in the area of American football, he was developing a great passion for the football played throughout the rest of the world. After viewing the 1966 World Cup on television, Hunt became a big soccer fan, and over the years attended nine of the 11 World Cups, including the 2004 event in Korea. (Soccer fans note that he declined to accept VIP passes for the event, preferring to travel by bus and sit in the stands with the rest of the soccer-crazed fans.)

In 1996, he pumped a great amount of his personal wealth into an operation that became Major League Soccer, going on to own the Kansas City Wizards and Columbus Crew. He also started the trend toward new, soccer-specific stadiums by financing a facility for the Crew.

Apparently not content to focus on football and soccer, he also formed World Championship Tennis Circuit in 1967, which led to the so-called “Open Era” of professional tennis. Hunt is in the halls of fame of three sports.

It is unlikely you will find many people with as broad an influence on the American sports landscape as Lamar Hunt. People in the football and soccer world, in particular, have been singing his praises and mourning his death today.

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