Originally created 12/16/06

It's a wonderful life

If George Bailey's guardian angel was right - that no man is a failure who has friends - then Lamar Hunt was one of the great success stories of our time.

Just consider this: The man is enshrined in the National Football Hall of Fame, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the United States Soccer Hall of Fame, two states' sports halls of fame and the Kansas City and Texas business halls of fame.

Now, that's a lot of friends.

And for good reason. Lamar Hunt, who died Wednesday at 74, was not only the ultimate sports pioneer, he was as kind and as modest and as benevolent a leader as you'll find.

He started the American Football League in 1959 - a crazy, high-wire upstart that was so successful, it merged with the older and established National Football League a decade later. Hunt went on to help the NFL become the world's most consistently popular sports product in the world. Along the way, his own Kansas City Chiefs appeared in two of the first four Super Bowls - a term he coined himself after seeing his child play with a "Super Ball."

Hunt was one of the country's first big proponents of soccer in the United States, helping found Major League Soccer. He also co-founded World Championship Tennis, and had his hands in basketball, ice hockey and other sports.

"Every time I ever saw him, I thanked him," says former Oakland Raiders coach and legendary broadcaster John Madden. "I got my first coaching opportunity in the American Football League, and I know if it weren't for Lamar Hunt, there wouldn't have been an American Football League."

Madden recalls that after the AFL's first year, someone told Hunt's oil-tycoon father, H.L. Hunt, that "Your son, with this new league, has lost $1 million."

"Well," Hunt's father responded, "at that rate, he can only go another 100 years."

That's the kind of support Lamar Hunt would go on to show thousands of others.

What a wonderful life.


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