KANSAS CITY, Mo.
It has been a rite of passage in the Hunt family for LIII seasons. The hope for Norma Hunt and her son Clark is that year LIV is the most special of all.
The widow of Lamar Hunt, who founded the AFL’s Chiefs in 1963, has attended every Super Bowl since before the game was even called that and before the silver chalice of victory was called the Vince Lombardi Trophy. All but one of those journeys to the epicenter of the NFL championship ended with just a touch of melancholy, even if she’d never taken the spectacle of the game for granted.
The Hunts reveled in the only Super Bowl victory in franchise history, when coach Hank Stram and quarterback Len Dawson led the Chiefs to a win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Now, a half-century later, there is a chance for another celebration.
Clark Hunt, now 54, has been to all those games with his mother, but he has no memory of the last time the Chiefs walked off the field as champions. He wasn’t aware of Stram’s famous line, “Just keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys!" Nor did he see Dawson sitting in the locker room inside Tulane Stadium in New Orleans at halftime, smoking a cigarette and drinking a bottle of Fresca.
“I was at that game, and I have a photo, so I hate to say that I don’t really remember it,” he said. “I was 4 or 5 years old.”
Clark Hunt now runs the team his father brought to Missouri; as an original AFL owner, Lamar Hunt moved the Dallas Texans to Kansas City in 1963. And while he has been a reliable steward of the franchise, there had always been something missing -- as his mother reminded him not all that long ago.
“I think it was around Super Bowl L, after my mom had been to 50 Super Bowls, she said, ‘Clark, it sure would be nice if we could play in this game once while I’m still able to go,’ ” he recalled Sunday.
Norma Hunt finally will see her beloved Chiefs in the Super Bowl again. And Clark surely will remember this one.
The Chiefs — who lost to the Packers in the first championship game between the NFL and AFL — are going back to the Super Bowl thanks to another extraordinary coach-quarterback tandem in Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. They’ve been at the heart of a remarkable regular season and playoff run, staging an extraordinary comeback from a 24-0 deficit to defeat the Texans, 51-31, in the divisional round and beating the Titans, 35-24, in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at iconic Arrowhead Stadium. They’ll face the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2 in Miami.
After Sunday’s win, the Hunts were presented something they’d never been able to possess before: the Lamar Hunt Trophy, named after the Chiefs’ owner in 1984 and given annually to the AFC champion.
“It’s a tremendous day for our family,” Clark Hunt said. “For [Norma Hunt] to have the chance to hold and kiss this trophy really means a lot. It’s very special for all of us. But my mom alluded to it on the stage [in the postgame celebration] that my dad always felt like the team really belonged to the fans.”
Had it not been for Norma Hunt, the name of the NFL’s championship game might never have been called the Super Bowl. It began as the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game,” and when NFL owners were looking for a catchier name, Lamar Hunt, who died in 2006, recalled that his wife had purchased a present for their children called a “super ball,” a tightly compacted rubber ball that was hyper-bouncy. He blurted out during a meeting with his fellow owners that the game should be called the “Super Bowl.”
He thought the name was slightly corny, but the owners went with it. And the game has since become the biggest yearly sports spectacle in the world.
Now his family hopes to have its name inscribed on the trophy that goes to the winner.
“At the end of the day, we’ve still got a big goal to accomplish,” Hunt said. “At the beginning of the season, I talked to the players about our goals during the year. Making the playoffs is goal No. 1. Bringing home this [Lamar Hunt Trophy] is goal No. 2. We’ve got those done. But our big goal left is to bring another Lombardi Trophy back to Kansas City.”
Only then would the Hunts’ circle of life journey be fully complete.