Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Chiefs open Hall of Honor
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It has everything from Hank Stram's film projector to Len Dawson's helmet to the children's toy that inspired the NFL to call its championship game the Super Bowl.
In one of the most interesting exhibits, fans can read the handwritten notes Lamar Hunt once made in-flight on American Airlines stationery detailing his ideas about an audacious project he wanted to call the American Football League.
The Kansas City Chiefs opened their Hall of Honor on Wednesday, giving fans a free tour of an impressive, exhibit-stuffed interactive museum that seems certain to become one of the most popular new features in Arrowhead Stadium's $325 million makeover.
The Hall contains 28,000 square feet and occupies a big chunk of the south concourse. In a salute to the always fan-friendly Hunt, who founded both the Chiefs and the AFL in 1959, it will be open to all fans every game day.
Hunt died in December 2006 and was known for his visionary but humble leadership. His family figures he would probably disapprove of the special section that was set aside to honor him.
"He would be mad at us," said Clark Hunt, one of Hunt's four children who serves as the Chiefs' chairman. "That's just the way he is. But I think he would be thrilled. This was one area of the stadium that was developed after he passed away. He was very interested in us having a museum in the stadium."
The hall covers much more than the Chiefs. It's also a history of the AFL, which began play in 1960 with eight teams and eventually forced a merger with the established NFL that created modern professional football.
Lamar Hunt, the son of billionaire Texas oilman H.L. Hunt, was in his mid-20s when he tired of being rebuffed in his efforts to buy an NFL team and talked several other wealthy sportsmen into forming their own league. One exhibit contains a facsimile of the handwritten notes Hunt made on airline stationery detailing ideas for the new league, including something that at the time was truly revolutionary. The teams would all share equally in television revenue.
In 1961, one year after the birth of the AFL, the NFL adopted the same idea.
"I know he would be thrilled that we have this on the open concourse for everybody to enjoy," said Clark Hunt. "As we went through the design process, at one point we thought we'd have a museum area that's a separate area of the stadium. The more we thought about it, we wanted it to be an area that was accessible to all fans on game day. We wanted it to be part of the game day experience."
A Super Ball, the small rubber ball that Lamar Hunt's children played with, rests in one case. Hunt, taking the cue from the toy, suggested that the AFL-NFL championship game be named the Super Bowl.
Chiefs fans will have no trouble finding memories of their favorite game, whatever it was. One section of the hall provides an account of every game the Chiefs have played in their first 50 years, complete with highlights and detailed box scores. That's a total of 1,008 games played by 1,024 players.
In another section is the original contract Frank Pitts signed with the Chiefs in 1967. It called for the star wide receiver to receive a salary of $15,000.
Dawson, the Chiefs Hall of Fame quarterback, was spotted staring into that particular glass case.
"That's more than they were paying me in 1967," said the man who led the Chiefs to victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.
Dawson memorabilia is everywhere.
"I walked into this building and I didn't know where I was," he said. "It's amazing how they saved all this stuff."
So what's it like not only living history but also making it and now seeing yourself as part of a big museum?
"Looking at all this," said Lenny the Cool, "it brings back a lot of memories."
The Chiefs even gave their fans a glimpse of the team, holding a practice at night.