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Lamar Hunt will be 40 this summer, but it seems only a year or two ago that he was a fuzzy-faced cherub challenging the power and wealth and clogged arteries of the mighty National Football League. Now he is the biggest wheeler in sports, but if you walked past him on Elm Street or sat next to him at Shoemaker's Barbecue in Dallas, you wouldn't bother to look twice, which is just the way he likes it. Hunt's biography in Who's Who in America is a three-liner marked with an asterisk that signifies his noncooperation with the editors. "He just hated to be put in there," says his secretary of 10 years, Jean Finn. "He totally dislikes anything that makes him stand out."
But stand out he does, like it or not, and what a contrast it all makes to 1959, when word got around that Hunt was going to break the NFL's wagon with his tack hammer. "We shuddered on his behalf," a veteran football reporter remembers. "You should have seen his first press conference. Here was this poor little rich boy, son of one of the world's richest men, standing up there like he was making a speech in catechism class. He spoke almost in a whisper, without any force or authority. Somebody nudged me and said, 'Wait till George Halas gets ahold of this punk!' It was like watching the first act of a Kabuki play. No matter what else happens, you know the last act's gonna be a beheading."
The reports of Hunt's beheading turned out to be grossly exaggerated. The poor little rich boy of 13 years ago has lived to see his homemade football league fully assimilated into the NFL. His Kansas City Chiefs have become one of the most successful of all franchises, on the field and at the box office. His World Championship of Tennis, at the ripe old age of four years, has become the dominant factor in the game. He has interests in the Chicago Bulls of the NBA and the Dallas Tornado of the North American Soccer League, and he has side investments in sporting projects like a tennis village near Austin, Texas and a 72-lane bowling center in Dallas. His sports holdings are worth, conservatively, about $50 million, and they constitute a minor portion of his worth. "Most of my income comes from oil," he explains matter-of-factly. He is a vice-president of the Hunt Oil Company, the vast international sprawl owned by his father H. L. Hunt, the zillionaire oilman and novelist and political propagandist (SI, Sept. 7, 1970).
Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, now a spry 83, takes proper pride in the doings of his youngest son. "Why, Lamar's probably the most popular man in the country," H.L. once told sports-writer Mickey Herskowitz. "Even the pro-Communist writers like him. Have you ever heard anyone say an unkind word about Lamar?" Herskowitz had to admit that he hadn't.
Nor—with rare exception—has anyone else. "I'm just convinced he's the nicest guy the Lord ever put on this earth," says L. William (Bill) McNutt Jr., fruitcake baron and Hunt's partner in soccer biz. "He's warm and genuine and straight as a string. If everybody were like him, the world wouldn't have any problems." McNutt is an exception among Hunt's friends in that he wasn't a Southern Methodist classmate. "Lamar has nothing to do with Dallas high society," a longtime Huntwatcher says. "He always gets together with those old cronies from SMU—none of them smoke or drink—and they fly to football games and things like that. They're very close, and if there's such a thing as truly beautiful people, it's them."
A good many folk don't love rich Texans—it is pure pleasure to mock their tastelessness and new-rich airs and 22% depletion allowance—but the prejudice seems to stop short of Lamar Hunt, perhaps because he bears so little resemblance to the archetypal blusterer. Look at him pruning that bush over there. Isn't that a pathetic sight? Note the holes in his sneakers, almost a personal trademark. Observe the 1953 haircut with the ?" sideburns. Note how he wears his graying brown hair parted to the left and annointed with a touch of greasy kid stuff, like Wayne Morris in Kid Galahad. Observe the dishwater-blue eyes behind the Sunday school teacher-type plastic glasses, and his height—why, he isn't even a 6-footer! Does that look like a magnate of sport and industry? Does that look like a man whose Dun and Bradstreet rating runs clear off the top of the page? Note the undersize ears and undistinguished nose and the unassertive chin. Would you buy a used drilling rig from that man?
You may say that none of us looks his best while gardening, but then how to explain that Hunt also looks superbly unimpressive when he's all gussied up in his good (and only) suit, the pinstripe that he's sorry he bought because it's a little too heavy for hot Dallas summers but won't replace "because it still fits pretty good, and one suit's enough for any man." At the rate he is wearing the pinstripe, it will be available for his funeral.
In a crowd Lamar Hunt stands out like wallpaper. Headwaiters consistently overlook him, and ma�tres d'h�tel ask him to "step aside, please," while they admit celebrities like the vice-mayor of Hasbrouck Heights and the chief dog warden of Gilpin County, Colo. Hunt shrugs, and stands quietly. He absolutely refuses to use his name or his prestige. It is easy to conclude he is shy, but a close friend says it is more than that: "An almost morbid fear of ostentation." Hunt does not entirely disagree.
"Yes," he says. "I do detest ostentation, big-dealing, like using your name to get a better hotel reservation or a good seat in a restaurant. I just can't stand to see people thinking they should get a better table because of some influence they think they might have. I believe in taking your turn. It's only fair."
Says the same friend: "Lamar comes across to some people like a pantywaist because he looks so unimpressive and he's so totally unpushy. And some people make the mistake of concluding that he's a Milquetoast. Ha ha! Lamar Hunt in his own quiet mannerly way is a very gutsy guy. He's gutsy because he's competitive; he got that from sports. And he's a giant-killer at heart; he got that from his daddy. They both of them like to take on the Establishment and beat it, and they're both good at it. But they're not the least bit devious. They tell you what they're going to do to you, look you straight in the eye, and then go out and do it. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they have a few bucks to start with."