SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
September 16, 1963
On the plane that carried the Kansas City Chiefs, the champions of the American Football League, across the shadow of the Rockies to their opening game against the Denver Broncos last week, Abner Haynes, the team's fancy running back and a virtual symbol of the league itself, was giggling and twisting in the aisle and winning an argument about Texas. Haynes was claiming that his home state, and the place from which the Chiefs had moved, had given pro football a greater number of stars than California. "Just name the position, baby," said Haynes to talent director Don Klosterman, a Californian. "Halfbacks," said Klosterman. "Go, baby," said Haynes. Klosterman said, "Jon Arnett." Haynes's eyes flashed and he said, "Oh, give me Doak Walker, quick." Klosterman hurriedly offered, "Hugh McElhenny." Haynes paused a second, snapped his fingers and said, "Abner Haynes. Ooh, baby." And Abner danced away.
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September 16, 1963

Too Many Chiefs Made Too Many Touchdowns

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But when the scoreboard reached 49 to 7 with the entire fourth quarter yet to play, Lamar Hunt's thoughts turned from his team to his league. "That score is double unreal," he said. "This might be a bad thing. It's really bad for Denver to open up like this."

It was only natural that Hunt should worry. He worries about everything in the AFL. Four years ago the joke was that Hunt invented the league because every time he tried to invest his money in something he discovered that his father already owned it. Things like Louisiana, Dallas and Libya, which the Hunts own. There were a lot of jokes about H. L. Hunt's oil millions and his youngest son's hobby, the AFL. Last week, however, when the AFL happily began its fourth season with a sane, solid, exciting, here-to-stay look about it, the joke was on all of the skeptics who had predicted that a second professional football league would fade away like Norman Thomas campaign buttons and hula hoops.

But as the AFL opened its first week of play in Denver, San Diego, Boston and Houston before a combined audience of nearly 100,000 (and millions more on television), Lamar Hunt had a lot of things to be pleased about, not the least of which was the winning performance of the Kansas City Chiefs. They had a new name and a new following, and in defeating the Denver Broncos they looked better than they had when, as the Dallas Texans, they won the championship from Houston last December in a prolonged sudden-death game that thrilled even sophisticated NFL fans.

In Kansas City, where Hunt moved the team last June, there are signs everywhere indicating that the Chiefs will make money and, even more important to its hero-worshiping owner, be appreciated. "It's impossible, of course, for anything to be appreciated and not be on a paying basis," says Hunt, "but if there was any way that we could break even just by having the stadium filled with fans who like and follow the team the way I do, I guess I would be happy. Yeah, I can be called a hero worshiper, I suppose."

The first sign of instant success was Kansas City's season-ticket drive to obtain the franchise from Hunt's home town of Dallas. Kansas City civic leaders had promised to deliver 25,000 season-ticket sales. It was an elaborate undertaking, and the final total will be closer to 15,000, but the enthusiasm alone was more than enough to convince Hunt that the area was fertile and that the struggle in Dallas with the NFL Dallas Cowboys was hopeless for both. In Kansas City 52 different companies purchased at least 50 season tickets each, whereas in Dallas, in three years, no more than four ever had done so—including the Hunt Oil Company. As Coach Hank Stram prepared for the opener in Denver, Kansas City's local booster club for the Chiefs held its first downtown luncheon. Hunt was amazed to count 270 guests, with standing room only. In Dallas, at the first boosters' meeting in 1960, he had counted 46.

"It feels strange to be in a city that does not suffer from an overpopulation of professional football teams," Hunt said. "But it feels good."

Local enthusiasm is not the only thing that makes Hunt and his Chiefs feel better in Kansas City. There is a modern new office building, located in a lovely area of Swope Park, and an adjoining walled-in practice field, both rent free. The Chiefs will be charged just $1 rental on Municipal Stadium for the first two seasons and then only 5% of the gross if the gate receipts exceed $1.1 million in a season. "For the Cotton Bowl in Dallas," says Hunt, "it would cost three times as much for the same gross." Moreover, the Chiefs get half of the concession profits in Kansas City; in Dallas they received nothing.

Despite all this, Hunt and Stram still wanted to call the team the Kansas City Texans. And they were quite serious.

"People are still laughing at me," says Hunt. "Jack Steadman, our general manager, can't get over it. But I still wish we were the Texans. I know it's foolish and I hope the people in Kansas City forgive me. But, you know, the struggle in Dallas was so deadly and we fought to a championship as the Texans and, I don't know, we just hated to give it up. I thought, too, that a lot of other teams move and keep their nicknames. The Rams from Cleveland to Los Angeles, the Giants, the Dodgers, the Lakers, and others. I was hoping we could get away with it, and Hank almost had me talked into it. But I guess it's better we didn't."

Even though the club held a contest in hopes of finding a nickname that would please Hunt, and even though 5,200 suggestions were sent in, it came down to a choice between Chiefs and Texans. "We had some funny ones," says Hunt. "The Mid-America Royal Hearts, for example, which has a historical significance that I can't explain. And, of course, some great ones from Dallas people, like Chicken Rat Finks."

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