Review of Michael MacCambridge’s Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports

“He is not remembered, like his father, for being a mythic figure of oil and politics and manifest destiny. Instead, Lamar Hunt was renowned because he was perhaps the most unusual combination ever of decency, innovation, secretiveness, optimism, persistence, naivete, politesse, shyness, loyalty, and an irrepressible love of the moment.” 

In the pantheon of American sports, especially football and notably coaches and owners, the names of Halas, Lombardi, and Brown come easily to mind. And yet, a Texas born son of an well known and powerful oil man, has shaped the game we watch today in ways that if not overshadow at least stands tall above a  long time and influential owner in the NFL , a legendary coach whose teams won the first two Super Bowls, and perhaps the game’s most innovative offensive genus. But Lamar Hunt did more than influence and shape the game of contemporary American football, he shaped and influenced the landscape of sports around the world in ways that many of us have yet to realize.

Michael MacCambridge takes us on a journey to help us discover just how much and how far Lamar Hunt, a shy and polite man who often downplayed his wealth, yet used it to bring spectator sports in America to a new level, changed the nature and status of sports in late 20th-century America.

“To understand all that he had accomplished, it was useful to remember how humble and provincial the American sports industry was in the late ’50s.  The games, even then, were a vital part of the leisure time of a group of spirited, youthful minded people. But in 1959, one could walk down a street in virtually any major city in America, and see no evidence whatsoever of the existence of spectator sports in the country… By the time of Lamar’s death, sports had breached the walls of mainstream culture, and insinuated itself into the daily fabric of American media, discourse and popular culture. pages 345-346

Published by Andrews MacMeel Publishing, Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports takes us back to a time in Texas, and really in America, where college football, especially in Texas ruled the hearts of men and women… and small boys who became fascinated with the latest college stars. But as the nation grew and expanded in the 1950’s professional football began to catch professional baseball for the hearts (and wallets) of the American sports public. The city of Dallas, well in the heartland of America, had tried to ensure that professional football would gain a foothold in Texas. But it did not and after the 1952 Dallas Texans folded, college football remained the game for Texas.

Until Lamar Hunt began in the late 50’s to seek to bring a new NFL team to Dallas.

And then as MacCambridge tells it, rebuffed, Hunt decided to start a new league which created a response from the NFL and then as America entered the 1960’s, created a clash, then a competition, and finally a merger between the upstart league, the AFL (American Football League) and the NFL that has shaped the game and the culture as we know it today.

But Hunt was not done. Attending a World Cup game in the mid-1960’s he determined to bring the Cup to America and make soccer at home in America. He did it but it took him 30 years and really the rest of his life to make it part of the main stream of American sports.  First with the North America Soccer League (NASL) which eventually folded in the mid 1980’s and then the MLS or Major League Soccer in 1996 with Hunt owning several teams and getting two soccer specific stadiums built – one in Columbus Ohio and in the Dallas, Texas area.

And then there was tennis where Lamar challenged the long held traditions and set the tennis world on its ear.

And MacCambridge tells all of this and more, the personal behind-the-scenes, challenges, triumphs, and tragedy of Lamar Hunt and his family and his loves, as he presents lovers of spectator sports and of the history of sports the story of a man who loved to sit in the stands with the fans and do things to bring them into the stands of the stadiums that he would see built.

Clearly written and comprehensive in scope, Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports is a wonderful introduction to man I had heard of but had no idea what he had helped to make happen in his life time. It draws on interviews with his family and close friends and presents a comprehensive picture of a loved man who love sports and devoted his life to make sports main stream.

I liked this book because it gave me a new and unique view of American sports history in my lifetime.

I rate this book an ‘outstanding’ read.

Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley. I was not required to write a positive review.

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