Somewhere... Lamar Hunt is smiling.
And it is not just because his Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-13 at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday, becoming the first Chiefs team to win a home game in the playoffs since 1993.
Next Sunday, the Chiefs — the team Hunt founded in 1960 as one of the original eight teams of the upstart American Football League — will play for the AFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl LIII.
Since 1984, the winner of the two NFL conference championships has also received a trophy. On Sunday, the NFC hopefuls will be trying to win the George Halas Trophy, which is named for the original founder, owner and coach of the Chicago Bears. But the AFC teams will be competing for the Lamar Hunt Trophy — named for the man who started the league that eventually became the AFC.
The Chiefs have never won an AFC championship. Even though they appeared in two Super Bowl games — the first played after the 1966 season and the second after the 1969 season — in both cases they appeared in the game as the representative of the original AFL. The AFC didn’t come into being until the 1970 season, when the 10 AFL teams (and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts of the original NFL) became the American Football Conference of the NFL.
Since the original Lamar Hunt trophy was awarded in 1984, eight of 34 have been awarded to teams that weren’t part of the league founded by its namesake. For older fans who followed the original AFL (myself included), it’s a travesty that the AFL’s original franchise doesn’t possess one.
Even in 1993, which is the only time that the Chiefs have appeared in the AFC Championship, it was largely because the Chiefs were led by Joe Montana, who had been acquired from the San Francisco 49ers — a team which had been part of the original NFL.
Lamar Hunt was far too kind and gracious to ever mention that original NFL franchises had been recipients of the trophy given in his name every season, while his own team had not. That’s who he was. Unlike some of his peers, he always saw his role as an owner in the largest perspective; if it was good for the league, it was good for his team.
When he was an AFL owner, that meant his league. But when his team became part of the NFL, he set that bitter rivalry aside and continued to act in the NFL’s best interest.
While there have been some differences in how his son Clark Hunt has handled the team since his father’s death in 2006, that part of his father’s legacy remains. Clark Hunt continues to see his role in the largest possible sense.
But don’t let that stop you from thinking the Hunt family wouldn’t love to have a Lamar Hunt Trophy on display at Arrowhead Stadium.
“[It would be] very special, obviously, for our family,” Hunt said after Saturday’s victory. “It’s one of the goals that I always put out for the players at the beginning of the year. First thing we want to do is win that Lamar Hunt Trophy. Then we want to go to the Super Bowl and win that Lombardi Trophy.”
Even so, Hunt wanted to be sure we understand exactly for whom the team would be playing.
“I dream about [winning that trophy] every year. We’ve now put ourselves in a position to do it. I’m probably going to think about it a lot this week. If we win that trophy, though, it’s not for me, it’s not for our family. To some degree, it’s for the team and the coaching staff, but it’s really for our great fans.”