The last great vision of late owner Lamar Hunt may be the fact that there will be no fight over his beloved Kansas City Chiefs.
Hunt, one of the last founding owners of the AFL, passed away Wednesday night after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer. He had been in a Dallas hospital since Thanksgiving.
Long before Hunt faced death, he began considering what to do when it happened. Hunt progressively turned over control of his team to a trust that would then hand control of the team to his family. The plan was so well-conceived that six years ago, Hunt and his attorneys did a presentation to other NFL owners about how to do it.
In short, at a time when many teams have had to be sold or when families have argued publicly about control of the teams, Hunt made sure his team would have stability. That type of stability is of growing concern to the NFL as franchise values climb and many longtime owners deal with inheritance issues.
"Lamar Hunt was selfless in every way when he was alive and even now after he has passed away," said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a sports marketing company in Chicago. "He always thought about others and what would happen to all of us, not just himself.
"His family will retain this team as long as they want. He planned for it … There's nothing that makes this moment easy. It's wrenching emotionally. But at least it's not wrenching financially for them. It's not the kind of situation that can pull a team apart."
That type of thinking permeated everything he did during his career as owner. In the 1960s, he and others such as Ralph Wilson of Buffalo started the AFL to challenge the NFL. However, Hunt eventually helped engineer the merger of the two leagues to ensure overall success.
On Thursday, Wilson remembered his friend.
"Everyone who follows professional football has lost a great friend with the passing of Lamar Hunt," Wilson said. "He was an unparalleled fighter battling a serious disease for 8½ years. He was responsible for bringing the game to all parts of the United States. He was respectful and generous to everyone. I have tears in my eyes expressing my condolences to [Hunt's wife] Norma and his family."
Hunt's other contributions are well-documented, from coming up with the name "Super Bowl" to even this year adding a third game to the slate for Thanksgiving Day. The AFC championship trophy is named after him and he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972, only 12 years after he had come to the game.
But it's in death that Hunt may have made his most lasting contribution to the game. Over the past 10 years, the NFL increasingly has become concerned about how teams are handled after the death of an owner. There have been numerous high-profile fights among families (like the Robbies in Miami and the Culverhouses in Tampa Bay) that have led to the forced sale of teams.
There may be more coming, such as with Oakland, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
In Oakland, for instance, many observers are wondering what will happen when managing general partner Al Davis dies. There are some who believe that wife Carole will take control and eventually hand the operation to son Mark. Others believe that Amy Trask, who is the top business operations person in the Raiders under Davis, will try to wrest control.
Others believe that the other part-owners of the team will try to gain control and force a sale of the team.
In Chicago and Pittsburgh, the large extended families of both the McCaskey and Rooney families could result in fights for control of those teams. The problem for the NFL is that such changes could create instability within the league.
NFL spokesman Joe Browne did not return a call from Yahoo! Sports, but Browne has been part of the league's growing effort to follow and influence federal tax laws regarding inheritance. So-called "death taxes" can be onerous for families and the NFL has tried to mitigate the impact of the tax.
At the same time, Hunt's efforts have been seen by many associated with the league as the best solution.
Sadly, it may have taken his death for many to understand that.
- Lamar Hunt