The origins of the Kansas City Chiefs

The origins of the Kansas City Chiefs

Oddly enough, the beginnings of the Kansas City Chiefs start with the City of Chicago.

Around 1958, the son of a billionaire Texas oilman, Lamar Hunt, was enamored with professional sports. He was wealthy, young, and a sports enthusiast. At first, he was going to invest in a third pro baseball league, but when that never got any traction, he focused on his first love: professional football.

Lamar Hunt - Kansas City Chiefs - File Photos

Lamar Hunt
Photo by Ross Lewis/Getty Images

He applied for an expansion team in the NFL to be placed in his hometown of Dallas, Texas. At the time there were just 12 clubs, so another would provide an unbalanced league. Plus, the league owners were all older men who were self-made, and the last thing they wanted was for some 26-year-old silver spooner to come into the fold with newfangled ideas.

Hunt was denied a franchise and was told that the idea of expansion was a long way off.

In 1959, he was told the Chicago Cardinals — owned by Violet Bidwell Wolfner, the first woman to own a pro football franchise, and her new husband Walter Wolfner — might be for sale. Hunt had full intention of buying the Cardinals and moving them to Dallas, in all probability of being named the Dallas Cardinals.

After several negotiations, the Wolfners agreed to sell to Hunt – 20%. And no, the Cardinals would not be moving to Dallas.

During the negotiations, Wolfner had bragged to Hunt about several rich men whom the NFL had sent his way to purchase the Cardinals. After traveling to Miami for one last attempt to purchase the Cardinals, Hunt was on an American Airlines flight and began to think about the three men Wolfner had mentioned who had the same idea. A light went off as he thought, “Why not begin a new pro football league?” During the flight, he made notes on the cost of equipment, revenue from ticket sales, and a rough schedule that could be pitched to prospective owners.

Hunt got commitments from men in Denver, Minneapolis, and Houston in this new association he called the American Football League (AFL) to begin play in 1960. He sought out prospective owners in Los Angeles and New York and later found owners in Buffalo and Boston.

The Minneapolis owner would jump ship to the NFL, and in its stead was eventually Oakland. Hunt’s team would be called the “Dallas Texans.”

Almost immediately, the NFL announced that they were indeed going to expand with four new clubs: one in 1960, another in 1961, and a pair by 1962. From 1946-1949, the league had endured war with another NFL rival league called the All-America Football Conference. What ensued was an escalation of player salaries while almost every NFL and AAFC club fell into the red each season.

The last thing the NFL wanted this time around was another upstart eight-team league to drive up costs.

And in fact, the first two NFL expansion teams were going to be placed in Houston and Dallas. The Dallas franchise was set up right away without an owner or any equipment, no players or coaches or scouts, without office personnel, and they were called the “Steers.” After finding an owner, he changed the name to the “Rangers” but the team was later renamed the “Cowboys.” A franchise in Houston never materialized.

At the time, the population of the city of Dallas was just over 600,000. Cotton Bowl Stadium was built in 1930 for the SMU Mustangs and was expanded from 45,000 to 75,000 seats in 1949 so it was considered major league. For three years, the Cowboys and Texans cohabitated both the stadium and the city. The area barely could afford to support one football team, much less three.

1962 AFL Championship Game Dallas Texans versus Houston Oilers

From 1960-1962, the Texans were one of the AFL’s best teams and had much better attendance than the Cowboys. During this span, the Texans went 25-17-0 while the Cowboys had a collective 9-28-3 record.

The Texans’ helmets were solid red with a white State of Texas logo that contained a small yellow star indicating where Dallas was within the state. During those days, every pro football team had a cartoon drawing. Their logo was a running sharp-shooter holding a football against the backdrop of the State of Texas.

They were marketed as “Football’s ZING Team.” For kids, Hunt invented the “Texans Huddle Club” which for $1 gave each child admission and a T-shirt.

In 1962, the Texans finished 11-2-0 and defeated the Houston Oilers 20-17 in the AFL Championship Game. Dallas, coached by Hank Stram, were league champions.

A new beginning

Despite achieving league success, Hunt was tired of the back-and-forth competition for the City of Dallas. Plus, he had again lost money despite the exceptional record and subsequent championship. He decided to relocate but preferred a new metropolitan area that was close to Dallas where he would maintain his home.

Kansas City head coach Hank Stram (left) with scout Lloyd Wells

His first stop was in New Orleans, which was a good football city. Tulane Stadium was home to the Sugar Bowl with seating for over 80,000. But there was an issue.

The stadium was still strictly segregated, and Hunt wanted nothing to do with racism and keeping people away from buying tickets. Hunt was adamant about racial equality and even hired Lloyd Wells, pro football’s first Black full-time scout.

His next scheduled stop was in Atlanta, but in the meantime, he received a call from the Mayor of Kansas City, H. Roe Bartle.

Kansas City had recently gotten the Athletics Major League club which played in Municipal Stadium, a space that could be retrofitted for football. With a pro baseball team already in town, Hunt thought this made the city “major league” and their stadium did not refuse to sell tickets nor section off segregated seats to Black patrons.

When Hunt visited, Bartle rolled out the red carpet and promised a presale of 25,000 season tickets plus free office space and practice facilities. After the Cowboys agreed to buy the Texans practice facility, on Feb. 8, 1963, Hunt announced the move to Kansas City.

It took a lot for Hunt to leave his hometown, especially after out-selling and out-performing the Cowboys. At first, he called his new team the “Kansas City Texans” in honor of his hometown. The Texans’ new helmets were the same solid red with a white State of Missouri logo that contained a small yellow star indicating where Kansas City was within the state. However, after a month, GM Jack Steadman talked Hunt out of it.

Hunt then chose “Chiefs” to honor what Bartle had done for him. Everyone called Bartle “Chief.”

Their logo was almost the same as the Texans’ running sharp-shooter, but with a running Native American holding a football against the backdrop of the State of Missouri. Later, Arrowhead Stadium would be built to keep the Native American motif going. But the fact of the matter is, the team was named after a man and not the tribe.

The “KC” logo that adorns the Chiefs helmets is copied from the logo of the San Francisco 49ers, which Hunt thought had class. The first letter is laid on top of the bottom letter with a letter style that has serifs, then each letter is outlined in black. Instead of an oval, Hunt drew out an arrowhead. Both have a thick black outline on the outer perimeter.

The Chiefs also invented colored facemasks. Stram loved defense. A strategy back then was offensive linemen would latch onto the facemask bars of their defenders and hold as a tactic to maneuver players.

At the time there were only two types of facemasks: a brown steel cage manufactured by Schutt or the gray double-barred plastic variety offered by Riddell. These were standard equipment for every professional football team.

Because complaints to referees went mostly ignored, to solve the holding problem, in 1974 Stram had his equipment man, Wayne Rudy, paint all of their gray facemasks white so that the referees could plainly see the fingers of the offensive linemen holding onto his defenders in this manner.

The Chiefs have won five pro football championships: two AFL, and three Super Bowls. And they’ve got a shot to win the fourth Lombardi Trophy for the franchise in Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas against the San Fransisco 49ers.

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