At the time of Marty Schottenheimer’s induction weekend into the Chiefs Hall of Fame last year he had occasion to be interviewed by fellow hall of famer Len Dawson. Dawson posed a question to Schottenheimer that I found interesting and it’s one that many readers might find as well.
Dawson asked Schottenheimer if he believed there would have been another pro football league without Lamar Hunt’s foresight and drive. Taking it one step further, I pose this: would there have been a professional football team for Kansas City?
If you recall, Hunt had made numerous attempts to acquire a franchise in the NFL. The NFL of the 1950s, you must remember, was not the NFL you know today. In the late ‘50s (when Hunt was getting interested) pro football would probably have ranked way behind baseball and even behind college football which was especially popular at the time, even more popular than it is today and that has much to do with TV coverage.
As for expansion, the NFL had only two members on its expansion committee (Art Rooney of Pittsburgh and George Halas of Chicago) but the two had never met on the subject and, besides, the league’s rule required a unanimous vote of all owners to expand.
Can there be any doubt that the impetus for such NFL expansion to Minnesota and Dallas (Cowboys) was Hunt’s willingness to start a new league? Hunt’s plans were not to be taken lightly given his personal resources and those of his associates, we must believe, forcing the NFL to expand when there is no evidence it had contemplated such an action. Moreover, the idea of branching out to what must be considered secondary markets like Denver and Buffalo was something no one was contemplating at the time save Hunt. At least in Kansas City, the city could boast of a major league baseball team, although it can be argued it was “major league” in name only given the franchise’s deteriorated condition under Charley Finley.
In any case, Kansas City wasn’t originally considered and it was only after an outreach from its mayor, H. Roe Bartle, and Hunt’s realization he could not survive battling another team in a more established league for fans that he moved his team here. Given his feelings for his hometown, the number of native Texas college players he had gathered to entice interest, and the time he had spent marketing the franchise, it was the decision of a brave man to even contemplate the move.
But, to the original question: would there have been an AFL without Hunt. We can argue that perhaps in time there would have been expansion, but Hunt’s ultimate decision dragged the NFL along at a pace it would never have considered. That Hunt was able to take all eight of his league’s original teams with him into the NFL is more impressive given that one was located in New York and many of the others were in cities the older league would likely never have considered in the first place. As for Kansas City being one of them, remember this: we have lost more professional sports franchises than we have gained.