It is no accident that Lamar Hunt's first pro football team was called the Dallas Texans, or that his soccer team is Dallas-based, or that the grand finale of his World Championship of Tennis is played in Dallas. Hunt is an unabashed booster of both Dallas and Texas, reveling in their uniqueness, faithfully buying their products and admiring their wonders. For example: "I drink Dr Pepper whenever I can. We're proud of Dr Pepper. It's now 95% national in coverage. It's a Dallas-based company." But does he like Dr Pepper? "I drink it whenever I can," Hunt says, ordering up another can from his doting wife. "I enjoy it."
Hunt was born in El Dorado, Ark., brought up in Dallas, attended The Hill School in Pottstown, Pa. and has made Dallas his permanent home ever since his SMU days. He can talk your arm off about the city's skyline, the "unbelievable" new airport, the gross annual income of Dallas companies, large and small. He is absolutely impervious to insults or jokes about his home state ("Have you ever been abroad?" "Yeah, I spent three days in Texas once"). He sheds such cracks with the cool dignity of one who knows in his heart that he is right, and he firmly believes that most Americans see Dallas and Texas under the same halo. When his Dallas Texans were forced to move to Kansas City, Hunt was stubborn about retaining the name "Texans," and it took hours of argument to convince him otherwise. "I wanted to hang onto the past, I suppose," he says, still halfway arguing that there would have been nothing odd about calling a team the Kansas City Texans. "The Lakers didn't change when they moved to Los Angeles, did they? There's no lake in L.A. The Lakers were a winning team, and the Dallas Texans were a winning team, and doggone it, Texans was our name!" Reason prevailed.
It was Hunt's hometown chauvinism that triggered the American Football League in the first place. "All I ever wanted was a professional football team for Dallas," he explains. "I tried for six months to get one, but the NFL wouldn't let me in. It was strictly to get a team for Dallas that the AFL was started, at least in my own motivation."
His memories of the AFL's struggle for parity are bittersweet and poignant and proud. "Sometimes it was scary," he recalls. "My neck was on the line, both financially and personally. I'd have just looked like an idiot if the league had failed. It was tough at first because we had an obviously inferior product and a harebrained idea. We should have been scared."
It is typical of H.L. Hunt's business acumen that all of his children share the same office space and the same office staff but otherwise are completely independent of their father, and thus the old man knew nothing about the creation of the AFL until he read about it in the
Dallas Morning News
. Lamar got a call from one of the company officials: "Your dad wants to talk to you about football."
"Sure, I was a little nervous," Hunt recalls. "J knew that my dad wasn't really current about professional football. He grew up in southern Illinois, 60 miles from St. Louis, and they were all baseball fans, Cardinal fans. So I went into his office, and he just said, 'Tell me about the football. Do you really think it's a good thing?'
"I said I thought it was, but then he started trying to talk me out of it, in his mild way. He said he thought it might be an undesirable business because he knew of some teams that had lost money. He was thinking of the 1930s and 1940s, when professional football was a losing proposition.
"Well, he happened to have two friends in football: Tim Mara, of the New York Giants, and Jim Bruel, who had an interest in the old Buffalo team. So he got them on the speaker telephone and he said, 'My son's thinking about getting into football. I just wondered what advice you might have.'
"He must have expected to get very negative answers, but remember this was 1959, and the Giants had won a championship in 1956 and then lost in that great overtime game with Baltimore in 1958, and things were looking good in pro football. So both Mr. Mara and Mr. Bruel told my father the same thing: 'Pro football's a good investment. It's something your son will really enjoy.' I'm sure this gave my dad consternation, but he didn't show it. He just said, 'Well, if you want to do it, it's yours to do.' He's great about things like that. He's never tried to force me to do anything or not to do anything. His attitude was, 'Well, this new football league is your problem, and you're gonna have to learn for yourself.' That's another reason I'm glad it worked out as well as it did.
"I'm sure you've heard the classic story about me and my father? The one where a reporter's supposed to have told him, 'Mr. Hunt, your son is going to lose $1 million a year on that new league.' And my dad's supposed to have answered, 'Well, at that rate he'll be finished in 150 years.' It's a great story, it ought to be true, but it just isn't. My dad would never say a thing like that. It's just not in his personality, and it wasn't true anyway, about me having that much money. I wish it was true. That story has been written in every language on earth. I'll bet I've read it 1,000 times myself."