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SPORTS Hunt, Murchison & the Birth of the Superbowl

Alex Constantine - January 13, 2011

 Super Bowl forever connected to Dallas

The Dallas Morning News  | December 22, 2010

Super Bowl XLIII   Thunderbirds Flyover   Feb 1 2009 300x199 - SPORTSThe first Super Bowl was in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 1967, but when it is played in North Texas on Feb. 6, it will be a homecoming for a lost child.

Forty-four years ago, the seed of the big game was planted in secret in a parking lot at Love Field and incubated in a series of spy vs. spy meetings in Highland Park and North Dallas. As the sons of Texas' two most famous oilmen tried to settle their differences, the modern NFL emerged and a national celebration was born.

Had H.L. Hunt and Clint W. Murchison Sr. not chosen Dallas as the place to build their multibillion-dollar empires and raise their families, there might be no Super Bowl.

Hunt was the richest man in America who made his fabled wealth from the 1930 discovery of the East Texas oil field.

Probably the second or third richest, Murchison created a fortune in oil and pipelines, but his holdings included publishing house Henry Holt, Field & Stream magazine, Daisy Air Rifle and the horse track in Del Mar, Calif.

While the two tycoons barely knew each other, each man sired a bookish, bespectacled son with savant-like facility with figures – Clint Murchison Jr., a 130-pound Phi Beta Kappa from MIT, and Lamar Hunt, the richest bench warmer in SMU Mustang football history, nicknamed "Poor Boy" by his teammates.

The fathers' other common denominator was a mutual dismay when each son started a professional football team – Lamar's Dallas Texans, which he later moved to Kansas City, Mo., and renamed the Chiefs, and Clint's Dallas Cowboys, owned with his brother John Murchison, co-founder of the Vail ski resort.

The clash of the young men's tenacious intellects and their colossal, game-changing fortunes ignited a chain reaction that created the two-conference NFL and a game that Lamar named Super Bowl, after watching his daughter, Sharron, play with her Wham-O Superball.

Of those first six Super Bowls, four featured either Clint's Cowboys or Lamar's Chiefs.

On the verge 

On New Year's Day 1967, in a little remembered slice of history, the two fortunate sons and their football teams came within a hair's breadth of meeting in Super Bowl I.

That day in Buffalo, N.Y., Lamar's Chiefs steamrolled over a Bills team led by quarterback Jack Kemp to win the American Football League Championship.

Whom they would play next was decided a few hours later at the Cotton Bowl.

"It would have been a very ironic twist had we won that game and faced the Kansas City Dallas Texans [sic ] in the first Super Bowl," the late Don Meredith said in 1982. "That would have been one of those odd little quirks."

If people remember anything about that year's NFL championship game, they remember Meredith's rollout for a game-ending fourth-down pass to Bob Hayes that was intercepted in the end zone by the Packers' Tom Brown.

Clint Murchison III, Burk Murchison and Robert Murchison were sitting with their father in the bleachers. Five subsequent trips to the Super Bowl under their dad's ownership and nearly 44 intervening years have not dimmed their memories of the final seconds of that game.

"Jim Boeke was offside," the three Murchisons say in unison.

Meredith had miraculously put the Cowboys on the Packers' 1-yard line, and a touchdown was imminent. But in the deafening noise of the Cotton Bowl, Boeke, a tackle who went on to act in such films as North Dallas Forty, Heaven Can Wait and Forrest Gump, jumped offside and the Cowboys were pushed back to the 6-yard line. "It was probably our biggest penalty ever," says Burk. The rest was cold, slow-motion desperation. The Packers advanced to Super Bowl I, where they beat the Chiefs.

No team to two 

In the late '50s, the common denominator between Clint Jr. and Lamar was that the National Football League ignored them. Clint had been interested in an NFL franchise since 1952 and tried unsuccessfully to buy the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins. Lamar tried but failed to purchase the ailing Chicago Cardinals and move them to Dallas. He and other Cardinals suitors asked the NFL for expansion teams but were denied.

"The NFL told him unequivocally that there would be no franchise in Dallas," says his widow, Norma Hunt. With a personal balance sheet that made him impervious to almost any attack the NFL could mount, Lamar started the Dallas Texans and, with five other owners, he launched the American Football League.

In what looked like shady timing to the AFL, George Halas, chairman of the NFL expansion committee, approached Clint almost immediately with an offer of an NFL franchise for Dallas. The always placid Lamar Hunt cried "sabotage," in perhaps his only recorded display of anger. He then hinted at the $10 million antitrust suit that he and the AFL would file 10 months later. "It's obvious what they're [the NFL] trying to do," he told The Dallas Morning News in August 1959. "I think some congressmen and senators from states where we will have teams are not going to stand for it."

The cold war 

For the next three years, the Texans and the Cowboys grimly skirmished over a meager Dallas fan base on the hard winter turf at the Cotton Bowl.

When hotelier Barron Hilton, grandfather of Paris, brought his AFL Chargers to play the Texans in Dallas, he and Lamar examined the paltry ticket sales.

"They talked about returning the money to everyone and just playing the game for each other," Norma said. "Barron would sit on one side of the Cotton Bowl, and Lamar could sit on the other."

Before the 1962 Cowboys-Giants game in Dallas, Clint offered seats to his pal, New York restaurateur Toots Shor, who received a carton containing 10,000 tickets and a note that read: "In case you want to bring any of your friends with you, I am also sending you Sections 1, 2, 3, and 4."

Peace of the action 

The war between the NFL and the AFL peaked in 1966, with flush owners such as Hunt wallet-whipping new prospects. Jets owner Sonny Werblin seduced Joe Namath with $427,000 and a new car even though he'd been drafted by the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals.

Yet it wasn't NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle or incoming AFL commissioner Al Davis who brokered the peace.

Instead, Murchison's general manager, Tex Schramm, approached Lamar Hunt.

"If you want to get something done, you go to the guy who has the power," Schramm told his biographer Bob St. John, a former Dallas Morning News columnist and sportswriter. For the first of many clandestine meetings, Schramm and Hunt met in the Love Field terminal, but fearing they'd be recognized, they headed to Schramm's car.

In the airport parking lot, they hammered out details of a league merger that birthed staples such as Monday Night Football and, most important, the Super Bowl.

"That was the beginning of the merger talks," says Lamar's son Clark Hunt, chairman and CEO of the Kansas City Chiefs. "Tex went to Lamar because Al Davis was the architect of the war between the leagues and vehemently against merging."

Chiefs become champs 

In January 1970, when Lamar's Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings at Super Bowl IV at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, the game had a bigger following than Super Bowl I, where there were thousands of empty seats. But it was far from the weeklong bacchanal that will encamp at Arlington's Cowboys Stadium.

Lamar and Norma Hunt entered the elevator at the Royal Sonesta to leave for the game and found one other couple going to the Super Bowl: Minnesota Vikings' 5-foot-5 owner Max Winter and his wife, Helen. Winter was one of the original AFL owners, but when the NFL offered him an expansion team a few months later, he jumped leagues.

"Just making small talk wasn't easy," Norma says of that brief encounter.

Cowboys get groove 

A year later, on Jan. 17, 1971, Clint's Cowboys were finally in the Super Bowl in Florida. But Clint didn't rise that morning in a Miami hotel room. He awoke in the 14,000-square-foot, one-story house he had built on his private island in the Bahamas, Spanish Cay. He and his guests, including Louisiana Sen. Russell Long, were driven to the island's airstrip where Murchison airplanes were waiting to ferry them 190 miles to Miami.

The Cowboys lost to the Baltimore Colts in a folly-filled melee known as the Blooper Bowl or the Stupor Bowl.

Colts' rookie kicker Jim O'Brien "couldn't kick the ball out of his shadow, and he ended up kicking the winning field goal," says Clint Murchison III.

It would take one more year to grab the prize. On Jan. 17, 1972, the Cowboys won Super Bowl VI.

The price is wrong 

Lamar Hunt's heirs still commute to Kansas City where the Chiefs are having a winning season in Arrowhead Stadium, which recently underwent a $400 million upgrade.

But Clint Murchison's sons no longer even own Cowboys season tickets.

Together they had 12 prime seats at Texas Stadium. The seat licenses they were offered at the new Cowboys Stadium sold for $150,000 per seat.

"For my four seats, it was going to cost $600,000 for the right to purchase tickets," marvels Robert Murchison. "That's almost exactly what Dad and Uncle John paid the NFL for the whole franchise."


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