KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Clark Hunt proudly held aloft the AFC championship trophy bearing his father’s name, the one signifying that his Kansas City Chiefs were headed back to the Super Bowl for the third time in four years, and reflected that not so long ago, success seemed elusive.
It had been 50 years between Super Bowl trips when Chiefs coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes led them back the NFL’s apex in 2020 - five full decades of heartbreak, disappointment and oftentimes despair.
The always-pragmatic Hunt uses the stretch in football’s wilderness to keep the current ride in perspective.
“I don’t know that it gets better,” Hunt said this week, “but we do know not to take it for granted. One of the things about going 50 years between Super Bowls is it teaches you how to appreciate it. You know, certainly over the last five years, we’ve been blessed playing in five straight AFC championship games, all here at home, and the three Super Bowls you mentioned.
“It’s special, but we’re not going to take it for granted,” he said.
Nor does his counterpart, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who purchased the franchise in the 1990s and lost four conference title games and a Super Bowl before finally winning his first Lombardi Trophy. The Eagles reached two more playoffs before sliding to a 4-11-1 record two years ago.
Most of those years of excruciating letdowns came while Reid was the coach, which only adds to the subplots in the Feb. 12 Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.
“Jeffrey is a phenomenal owner,” said Reid, whose affinity for the man who gave him a chance to be a head coach was hardly harmed by Lurie firing him. “He did a great job for me, my family, everything.”
In truth, both owners have done well for their franchises and their cities.
Hunt had unimaginably large shoes to fill when his father, Texas businessman Lamar Hunt, died in 2006. The elder Hunt remains a beloved figure in Kansas City. He helped found the AFL, established the Chiefs and even coined the term “Super Bowl.” He also was one of the key figures in the creation of Major League Soccer.
Clark Hunt made plenty of missteps early, including a series of coaches and general managers that he hired with great fanfare but produced little results. Slowly, steadily and often behind the scenes, Hunt was becoming one of the NFL’s most respected owners, sitting on important committees and even helping to end the 2011 lockout.
Two years later, Hunt changed the Chiefs‘ entire trajectory with a trip to Philadelphia.
Reid had just been fired when Hunt, who had just fired Romeo Crennel, picked up the phone and set up a meeting. The interview came Jan. 2, 2013, in a conference room in a Philadelphia-area airport, where a plane sent by the Cardinals to ferry Reid to Arizona for another interview was waiting on the tarmac.
Hunt proved two things that day: He was an astute businessman and exceptional salesman. The owner convinced Reid they could build a winner in Kansas City - he never did get on that other plane. Over the past decade, they have done just that: seven straight AFC West titles, four conference titles and, they hope, a second Lombardi Trophy.
“Internally we had high expectations,” Hunt said, “but if you listen to much of the national media, you know, you would’ve thought that we had no chance this season. I remember Andy commenting in response to a questions that, ‘We’re not going to be too bad ourselves,’ because people were talking about these other teams in the AFC West.
“Obviously, really, the credit goes to Andy and the coaching staff.”
Along with the owner.
In Philadelphia, Reid‘s firing gave way to ultra-successful college coach Chip Kelly taking the reins. When that experiment failed, Lurie, a movie producer, plucked away Reid‘s offensive coordinator, Doug Pederson. Within two years, Pederson had done what Reid could not: win the Super Bowl.
Pederson went to two more playoffs before things fell apart. He was fired, too. Lurie‘s off-the-radar replacement was Nick Sirianni, then the offensive coordinator of the Colts.
If Hunt‘s hiring of Reid underscored his salesmanship and business acumen, Lurie‘s decision highlighted his keen eye for talent and willingness to take a gamble.
The Eagles lost in in the wild-card round in Sirianni’s first season, and in his second, they are back in the big game.
“I can’t overestimate the value of the coaches,” Lurie said. “Nick is outstanding - smart, connects with everybody, cares, is passionate. And at the same time, his staff is outstanding. They are all similar age, they are young, they get along great. You have to have a great culture of a coaching staff. He has that.”
Yet it’s Lurie who has established a culture of success within the Eagles organization. Just like Hunt has done with the Chiefs.
“I’ve been out to eat with him a few times. I talk to him when he’s around the building because he’s here a lot,” Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert said of Lurie. “Just really thankful for him and everything he gives the team so we can be as successful as we have been. He fits right along with the Philadelphia culture. He knows how important Eagles football is to the city.”
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