Lamar Hunt, son of Texas oil magnate Haroldson Lafayette “H.L.” Hunt, gained renown as a sports owner and promoter. He helped found the American Football League (AFL) in 1959 and also helped create a pair of professional soccer leagues in the United States. At the time of his death he was the chairman of the Kansas City Chiefs football team in the National Football League (NFL) as well as the Columbus Crew franchise in Major League Soccer (MLS). Other professional sports clubs and leagues with which he was involved include the Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association (he was one of the Bulls’s founding owners), the Dallas Tornado in the United Soccer Association and North American Soccer League, FC Dallas soccer team, the World Championship Tennis circuit, and the Kansas City Wizards (later renamed Sporting Kansas City) in MLS.
Hunt was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, on August 2, 1932. He was the son of Haroldson Lafayette and Lyda (Bunker) Hunt. Shortly after Lamar’s birth the family moved to Tyler, Texas. Exposed to sports early in life, young Lamar attended the inaugural Cotton Bowl game in 1937. He developed a strong interest in competitive contests and earned the nickname “Games” as a child. In 1938 the Hunt family moved to Dallas. His father, H.L. Hunt, was reportedly the richest man in America by the mid-1940s and had amassed a fortune from his oil revenue with several companies, including the Hunt Oil Company. Unknown to the family, however, H. L. Hunt had a second marriage and family with Frania Tye in Florida.
Lamar Hunt attended prep school, The Hill School, in Pennsylvania and graduated in 1951. He graduated from Southern Methodist University (SMU) with a bachelor of science degree in geology in 1956; he had also played football for the Mustangs and was a teammate of future NFL Hall of Famers Raymond Berry and Forrest Gregg.
As a young man, Lamar Hunt joined one of his brothers, Nelson, and his father H.L. in political action committees, and the family had a close relationship with future President Lyndon B. Johnson. Lamar Hunt became a passionate sports advocate in the United States and focused much energy on getting involved with professional football. After his efforts to purchase an existing National Football League (NFL) franchise were thwarted in the 1950s, the oil heir, still in his mid-twenties, began discussions with other businessmen to form a new competing league which would include teams in both Dallas and Houston (the Houston Oilers, owned by Bud Adams). Hunt’s leadership in bringing professional football to the state of Texas reached its apex in 1959 with the creation of the American Football League (AFL), a rival league to the NFL. The AFL launched its first season with eight teams in 1960. This included Hunt’s own Dallas Texans, which won the league championship on December 23, 1962, with a thrilling double-overtime 20–17 victory over the Houston Oilers—a game that was broadcast on national television and the longest football game ever played up to that time. To avoid competition with the new NFL franchise in Dallas, the Cowboys, Hunt moved his team to Kansas City before the 1963 season, and the Texans franchise was renamed the Chiefs. The team won AFL championships in 1966 and 1969. The first four Super Bowls matched the champions of the two competing leagues with Hunt’s Kansas City Chiefs representing the AFL in Super Bowls I and IV. The Chiefs won the latter contest in 1970 with a 23-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Among the notable innovations credited to the AFL was the recruitment of many more African-American players into the league. Lamar Hunt was at the forefront of negotiating a merger between the NFL and AFL. The agreement was completed in 1970; at that time the AFL consisted of ten teams. Throughout his life Hunt made major contributions to professional football that shaped the game in the modern era. He helped design the playoff format and is credited with coining the term “Super Bowl.” Hunt also advocated naming the Super Bowl Trophy after Vince Lombardi. He put players’ names on their uniforms, added an extra Thanksgiving Day game, and was ultimately responsible for the allowance of the two-point conversion in professional football. Lamar Hunt was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972. He was the first AFL person to be inducted. In 1981 he was inducted into the Order of the Leather Helmet of the NFL Alumni Association. The NFL honored him by naming the American Football Conference (AFC) championship trophy the Lamar Hunt Trophy. He was honored with the Francis J. “Reds” Bagnell Award from the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia in 1993.
Hunt’s contributions to other major league sports included significant support of soccer in the United States. He helped found both the North American Soccer League and later Major League Soccer. He founded the Dallas Tornado team in 1967. In 1998 he helped build Crew Stadium, the first American soccer-specific facility, in Columbus, Ohio, and also oversaw operations of that city’s soccer team. He was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1982. The U.S. Open Cup in soccer, the oldest ongoing soccer competition in the United States which dates back to 1914, was officially named the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 1999. That same year he earned the U. S. Soccer Federation Hall of Fame Medal of Honor. In 2005 the U. S. Soccer Foundation gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Lamar Hunt received numerous honors during his lifetime. Hunt co-founded the World Championship Tennis circuit in 1968 and was honored with induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993. Other halls of fame honors include induction into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1984, Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1990, Texas Business Hall of Fame in 1997, and Kansas City Business Hall of Fame in 2004. Hunt also engaged in numerous philanthropic activities, including providing strong support to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Dallas Museum of Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, and contributions to Southern Methodist University. In 2001 he established the Heart of a Champion Foundation. Hunt constructed the Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun theme parks in Kansas City as well as a vast underground business complex known as SubTropolis in Clay County, Missouri. Lamar Hunt’s shares in his father’s oil empire had vaulted him to the top ten in Fortune’s 400 wealthiest Americans list by the year 1995.
Lamar Hunt died on December 13, 2006, at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. He was married twice and survived by his wife of forty-two years, Norma, and their four children, Sharron, Lamar Jr., Daniel, and Clark. His son Clark also attended SMU where he played on the school’s men’s soccer team. Upon his father’s death, Clark Hunt took over control as chairman of the board of the Kansas City Chiefs and the Columbus Crew. Lamar “Games” Hunt was buried in Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas.