Lamar Hunt, whose father’s Texas oil fortune gave him the springboard to become a prime founder of the American Football League and who gave the Super Bowl its name, died Wednesday night in Dallas. He was 74. The cause was complications of prostate cancer, according to a spokesman for the National Football League team that Hunt owned, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Hunt was a geologist by training, with a degree from Southern Methodist University, where he was a reserve tight end on the football team, but he was no dilettante when it came to owning sports teams. While leading various business ventures, he was also serious about tennis and soccer, helping to create leagues for those sports as well. He is in the halls of fame of all three sports.
At his death he also retained an interest in the Chicago Bulls basketball franchise as an original owner.
But it was as a football man — a sport he loved to tinker with, and whose statistics and minutiae he enjoyed immensely — that Hunt left his greatest sports legacy.
He liked to describe himself as part of “the foolish club,” the founders of the A.F.L., which challenged the entrenched N.F.L. in 1960.
Hunt was the owner of the A.F.L.’s Dallas Texans, a team that moved to Kansas City in 1963 and became the Chiefs. At his death he was one of three original A.F.L. owners still heading their franchises. The others are Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills and Bud Adams of the Tennessee Titans, formerly the Houston Oilers.
Hunt had an unpretentious, soft-spoken manner. Once, when a Chiefs official described him as the team’s owner, Hunt corrected him. “Please call me the founder,” he said. (Founder is his title in the Chiefs’ media guide.)
His son Clark is the Chiefs’ chairman. Survivors also include Hunt’s wife, Norma; a daughter, Sharron Munson; two other sons, Lamar Jr. and Daniel; and 14 grandchildren. Hunt’s first marriage, to Rosemary Carr, with whom he had two children, ended in divorce.
In 1959, the 27-year-old Hunt had been unsuccessful in acquiring an N.F.L. franchise for Dallas, where he lived. The N.F.L. was quite content to remain a 12-team league.
So Hunt decided to form a rival league to begin play in 1960. He worked out the rudimentary plans on an airplane letterhead while flying. As usual, he flew coach, despite being a son of the billionaire H. L. Hunt.
Lamar Hunt preserved that stationery, as he did so many other artifacts, in a limestone cave north of Kansas City, Mo. Notes he doodled on, snippets of phone conversations, anything that he felt had some interest or jogged his memory or brought him a chuckle, he kept.
Although he became one of the most important owners in pro football, with the American Football Conference championship trophy bearing his name, he was not always part of the establishment. In fact, the N.F.L. failed to appreciate having a rival league in the burgeoning city of Dallas, where Hunt’s Texans had set up shop, so it decided to put an N.F.L. franchise there — the Cowboys.
In 1966, the N.F.L. and the A.F.L. agreed to merge. In the negotiations, Hunt had a leading role representing his league and Tex Schramm, the Cowboys’ general manager, did the same for the N.F.L. Although the leagues would not formally merge until 1970, they planned a championship game, to be held after the 1966 season. Hunt’s Chiefs lost to the Green Bay Packers in that January 1967 game that became known as the first Super Bowl.
Hunt recalled that in the discussion of playoff games, “the words flowed something like this: ‘No, not those games — the one I mean is the final game. You know, the Super Bowl.’ ”
He added: “My own feeling is that it probably registered in my head because my daughter, Sharron, and my son Lamar Jr. had a children’s toy called a Super Ball, and I probably interchanged the phonetics of ‘bowl’ and ‘ball.’ ”
But the first two games had a less compelling title: the A.F.L.-N.F.L. World Championship Game. After two years, Hunt’s Super Bowl interjection became the name of the game. Then, in a note to N.F.L. Commissioner Pete Rozelle, Hunt had the whimsical thought that Roman numerals gave the game “more dignity.” After the third Super Bowl, Roman numerals were grandfathered in.
Over the years, Hunt, a native of El Dorado, Ark., separated himself financially from the more publicized side of his family, the Hunts of Texas. H. L. Hunt, the patriarch, had been a professional gambler who parlayed a few oil leases bought with money won at the poker table into one of the nation’s largest fortunes.
Lamar Hunt did retain his interest in various family oil businesses, but he branched out into real estate. In Kansas City, he helped develop the theme parks known as Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun. He also tried to buy Alcatraz, the island in San Francisco Bay that once housed a federal prison, and develop it as a tourist park and shopping destination. The idea, put forward in 1969, was dropped in the face of local protests.
Along with two brothers, William Herbert and Nelson Bunker, Hunt tried to corner the world silver market in 1979 and 1980. In 1988, a federal court ordered the brothers and other defendants to pay more than $130 million in damages to Minpeco S.A., a commodities concern owned by the government of Peru. The brothers saw some large oil investments sour in the 1980s, by some estimates depleting the family fortune by billions of dollars. William and Nelson are among Lamar’s survivors, as are several other brothers and sisters.
Throughout his business career, Hunt remained active in sports. He was a founder of World Championship Tennis, and he helped bring about the North American Soccer League, which put the game in major league stadiums across North America. He also owned the minor league baseball Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs for a time. More recently, he and his sons owned Hunt Sports Group, which manages professional soccer teams in Dallas and Columbus, Ohio.
As the Chiefs’ owner, he didn’t meddle. “On Sunday nights after a game, he would always call,” the Chiefs’ coach, Herm Edwards, told The Associated Press yesterday. “It would be about 9:30 or 10 o’clock and the phone would ring and I knew it was Lamar. He always said, ‘Am I bothering you?’ ”
But he kept an apartment at Arrowhead Stadium, and his team was hugely successful early on. In addition to playing in the first Super Bowl, the Chiefs won Super Bowl IV, defeating the Minnesota Vikings.
Owning a team also satisfied another side to Hunt. As he told CNN in 1998, looking back on his career, talking about his first involvement in pro football, when he started a team in Dallas: “I guess I had sort of a show business bug in my mind.”