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Hunt's death leaves void for Chiefs, NFL

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ The mood was somber around Arrowhead Stadium. The death of Lamar Hunt came as no shock, but it was still difficult to imagine the Kansas City Chiefs without their humble and farsighted founder.

Family members asked that instead of flowers, well-wishers contribute money to two of Hunt's favorite organizations _ the Dallas Museum of Art and the Heart of a Champion foundation. But that did not stop the floral arrangements from arriving.

Many were brought inside the team's offices, where they accompanied poinsettias set out for the holiday season. Others were clumped around a white picket fence, not far off Hank Stram Way.

The 74-year-old son of a Texas oil tycoon, Hunt established the American Football League, coined the term Super Bowl and changed the face of modern professional football. He died Wednesday night in a Dallas hospital after a long battle with prostate cancer.

Thursday morning dawned with a gray sky in the area _ perhaps fitting for the first day the organization has not had its intrepid leader.

``Lamar was a visionary, a leader, an uncommon man who had time for everyone,'' Chiefs president and general manager Carl Peterson said, choking up at times. ``There is not a better example how all of us should lead our lives than Lamar Hunt.''

A local television station broadcast live from Arrowhead Stadium for four hours during the afternoon, as fans and former players stopped by to pay respects. People across the country called in to local radio stations, each with a personal story.

There was the time Hunt, ever the humble billionaire, drove to the stadium in a cheap rental car. Not realizing it belonged to him, a parking lot attendant had it towed away during the game.

There were the hundreds of times fans would ask Hunt for his autograph, then quickly thank him for taking the time. Hunt would thank them for asking.

``To the last time he could physically walk here, he would go out pre-game, walk the parking lots, shake hands with people, ask them how they were doing,'' Peterson said. ``He wanted to really know what they thought. Sometimes not good, but most times outstandingly good.

``He just interfaced with them in a way that Lamar Hunt was maybe the greatest fan of them all.''

Hunt carried that youthful exuberance, even in old age, into the locker room after every game. He celebrated the victories and was the first to give encouragement after each defeat. He was ever the optimist and refused to level criticism at players and coaches.

``Luckily, I'm the fourth locker down from the door,'' wide receiver Eddie Kennison said. ``I was one of the first guys to get a handshake. That's something I'm going to miss.''

Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez sat alone in front of his locker after practice, reading about the man who gave him a platform on which to become one of the best ever at his position.

Nearby, guard Brian Waters remembered the personal relationships Hunt had with each person in the organization, from secretaries to executives, the starting quarterback to the last man on the roster.

``He would be concerned about little old me or some first-time rookie. Supposedly nobody, they were somebody to him,'' Waters said. ``Even in his own down time, given all the things he had to fight through, his sickness, he still wanted to know how we were doing.''

The nearly universal opinion of people in the Chiefs organization is that over the next week, when memorial services are to be scheduled in Dallas and Kansas City, Hunt's life should be celebrated. His death should not bring sadness.

But quarterback Trent Green said it does bring regret.

The last two games of Hunt's life were disappointing losses to Cleveland and Baltimore, nearly dashing Kansas City's hopes of reaching the postseason and playing for the AFC championship trophy that bears Hunt's name.

``When Carl addressed the team this morning, that's something he brought up. It was the one thing, not necessarily disappointing, but the one thing he feels bad about,'' Green said.

``For a league to honor someone by naming a trophy after them just tells you the impact he had on the game.''
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