Enjoy Watching the Super Bowl? Thank a Texas Oilman

Two Texas oilmen and their quests to bring a professional football team back to Texas.

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In 1970, Hunt’s Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings to win Super Bowl IV. They would have to wait another 50 years to win it again.
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The heyday of Texas oil made a number of men—and their families—wealthy. This group of nouveau riche made national headlines with their lavish spending and eccentricities; whether it was the parties thrown by Glenn McCarthy at his Shamrock Hotel in Houston or the Hunt Brothers’ disastrous attempt to corner the silver market. By these standards, the separate quests by the sons of two of these families—Lamar Hunt (son of H.L. Hunt, founder of Hunt Oil) and Clint Murchison Jr. (son of Clint Murchison Sr., wildcatter, founder of the Southern Union Gas Company and businessman) to bring a professional football team back to Texas were downright mundane, not to mention wildly more successful. They also ultimately shaped the NFL as it is known today.

The first professional football team in Texas, the Dallas Texans, played a single dismal season in 1952 before being sold and subsequently disbanded. A lifelong football nut, Murchison attempted—unsuccessfully—to buy the ill-fated Texans before they departed spent. He would spend the better part of the next decade attempting to return professional football to Texas. In subsequent years he failed to buy the San Francisco 49ers and reportedly came within a whisper of closing a deal to buy the Washington Redskins before that too fell through. Murchison never succeeded in buying an NFL team. However, some might argue he did one better; in 1959 he won the right to one of the NFL’s two expansion franchises, slated to start play in the 1961 season. Thus, the Dallas Cowboys were born.

That same year, Hunt also succeeded in acquiring his own professional football franchise. It was not, however, an NFL team. Like Murchison, Hunt’s initial attempts at acquiring a professional football team for Dallas—spurred by watching the 1958 NFL Championship Game—were unsuccessful. In 1958 he failed to secure an expansion franchise and in 1959 he failed to purchase the Chicago Cardinals. Upon hearing that Murchison was on the verge of securing an NFL franchise of his own for Dallas, Hunt realized that it was unlikely he would be able to secure a second team for Dallas. Following a conversation with Houston oilman Bud Adams (who had also tried (and failed) to secure the Cardinals franchise for Houston) Hunt came up with a solution. In August of 1959, Hunt announced that he and Adams were founding the American Football League (AFL). Along with their franchises (the Dallas Texans and Houston Oilers), the duo fleshed out their roster by pursuing others who had expressed interest in the Chicago Cardinals or otherwise failed to secure an NFL franchise of their own. This provided them with six other teams in New York, Los Angeles, Denver, and Oakland. The NFL made a last-minute effort to kill the AFL before it ever saw play by offering Hunt a stake in the Cowboys, but he declined.

The AFL started playing in 1960. This spurred the NFL to start the Dallas Cowboys a year earlier than initially planned. Both the Texans and the Cowboys played their first seasons in 1960. Despite the effort, money and enthusiasm their new owners poured into securing their teams, neither the Cowboys nor the Texans managed to draw large crowds—Dallas simply couldn’t support two teams. The Cowboys lost every game but one (which was a tie) in their first season, and the Texans weren’t in the NFL, despite sporting more on field success. Hunt was reportedly losing $1 million a year. Despite his father’s quip that at that rate, he could go on losing for another 150 years before going broke, Hunt threw in the towel after the 1962 season and relocated his franchise to Kansas City, rechristening it the Chiefs in the process. Relieved of the competition and beginning to find success of their own on the field, the Cowboys began to fare better. Hunt, for his part, secured the future of his franchise and the AFL by securing a first-of-its-kind, $36 million, 5-year television contract.

The competition between Cowboys and the Texans was just a small part of the larger competition between the NFL and AFL. They were natural and immediate rivals, competing for both fans and talent in a “financial bloodbath for both leagues.” When the unspoken agreement to not sign one another’s players was broken in 1966, the prospect of even more expensive bidding wars for talent spurred merger talks. Announced in 1966 and fully executed by 1970, the NFL-AFL merger set the stage for modern day football. All AFL franchises would continue to exist in their current home cities, the league would expand to 28 teams by 1970, and beginning in 1967 the two leagues would participate in a mutual draft as well as play a championship game at the end of the year.

In its inaugural season, many names were suggested for the championship game including the “Big One” and “Pro Bowl.” Its first two iterations were officially called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. Hunt—who’s own Kansas City Chiefs played in the inaugural championship game—gave an interview in which he referred to it as “the Super Bowl,” a term whose inspiration he credits to his son’s “Super Ball” toy. The media ran with it. By the third season’s championship game in 1969, the official name was changed to the Super Bowl. In 1970, Hunt’s Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings to win Super Bowl IV. They would have to wait another 50 years to win it again.