Friday, October 22, 2021

Owner Clark Hunt overcomes early stumbles to make Chiefs elite

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He comes from a family of dreamers, the son of a man who had, perhaps, the most vivid imagination in the history of professional sports. So maybe it should have come as no surprise when, in February 2012, Clark Hunt started sounding a little bit crazy.

He had just completed his fifth year as CEO of the Kansas City Chiefs, inheriting the job when his dad, the franchise founder, Lamar Hunt, died in 2006. Things had not gone well: There was one winning season, 10-6, in 2010. Beyond that was a litany of misery: 4-12, 2-14, 4-12, 7-9. The Chiefs were a mess.

Bill Parcells used to say he was really only competing against seven or eight teams every year, because the others were led by owners too inept to ever get out of their own way.

Hunt’s name gave him a gravitas in the league, but it quickly seemed apparent he belonged in the larger grouping.

And then he cleared his throat in the winter of 2011, and he confided in Sam Mellinger, a columnist for The Kansas City Star, who asked him who he wanted the Chiefs to be like someday. And Hunt answered quickly:

“The Steelers. The Giants. The Patriots. The Packers. The Ravens.”

Those five were certainly in a small, elite group.

He saw the Chiefs joining them someday?

Clark HuntAP

“A common denominator of all those franchises is they have quality football people who are very smart and do a great job when it comes to drafting players and building the football team,” Hunt told Mellinger, who was understandably skeptical.

“If you have the right owner, you get the right GM, you get the right coaching staff, you draft and acquire the right kind of players, and that puts you in position to win over the long term,” Hunt said.

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Chiefs in prime position to be NFL’s next dynasty: experts

The Chiefs are in the Super Bowl for the second-straight…They were outscored 425-211 — an average loss of 27-13 — and only nine points separated them from 0-16.

And then a funny thing happened. The Chiefs hired a good GM, John Dorsey (later replacing him with an even better one in Brett Veach). They hired the right coach, Andy Reid. They started assembling a remarkable collection of the right players, notably quarterback Patrick Mahomes. And now, as it turns out, they had the right owner, too, all along.

“If you were to build the perfect owner from scratch,” Reid said earlier this week, “you simply build Clark Hunt. It’s really that simple.”

Hunt shakes that off.

“Our fans,” he said, “deserve nothing less. My father always said that.”

Clark Hunt was groomed for this from the start, and in many ways he has a proprietary interest in the Super Bowl, which will be played for the 55th time this Sunday. The Chiefs have played in four of them. They are the defending champs. But Hunt was in the room when the Super Bowl became the Super Bowl — at least if you choose to believe the legend.

He was less than a year old, lying in his crib when his older brother, Lamar Jr., brought home a new toy: a hard, super-resilient ball made of a new polymer called “Zectron.” Wham-O introduced it for 98 cents in 1965.

And soon — again according the legend, and as a wise man once said, “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend” — Shannon Hunt was strolling all over the Hunt house on Orchid Lane in Dallas, singing a song of her own invention:

“Super Ball!” (bounce)

“Super Ball!” (bounce, bounce)

“Super Ball …”

And Lamar Sr. — who not only had invented the Chiefs (born as the Dallas Texans) but also the entire American Football League — suddenly had an inspiration to counter the name NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle had crafted for the game that would decide the winner of the freshly merged NFL and AFL.

So it became known as the “Super Bowl” and not “The Big One.”

To the Super Bowl — or The Big One, if you prefer — Hunt will bring a team that looks, in all ways, exactly how he hoped it would look nine short years ago. The Chiefs already have matching AFC Championship trophies, the hardware named after Lamar Sr. They come hoping to earn a place walking with the greatest football teams ever formed.

Lamar Sr. told me once: “I’m just a sports fan who was lucky enough to be in position to own a team I love. I may sign the checks, pay the bills.

I never want to forget that.”

Nor does his son. Maybe Parcells was right. Maybe there are only eight teams with owners smart enough to win it all. Maybe the number is smaller. But the Chiefs are in that group. And they won’t be expelled for a long, long time.


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