As one who has occasion to read the late Lamar Hunt’s numerous memorandum and letters every work day, I’m forever surprised by how he comported himself as a gentleman even in the most acrimonious of situations. Of course, there’s the chance that his intent in some of his missives carried a hint of tongue-in-cheek.
To wit, consider this outtake from a 2 June, 1961 letter from Hunt to Edwin Anderson, general manager of the Detroit Lions. The communication came at a most tumultuous period in the history of pro football with the American Football League in its second year and engaged in a battle for players with the old established National Football League. Making the incident this letter describes all the more intriguing is the fact that Hunt had been involved in a dispute over rights to Johnny Robinson with the Lions the year before. Robinson, drafted in the first round by Detroit, had opted for the Texans which no doubt left some lingering bitterness since the matter had been resolved only after some legal haggling.
In this case, however, the Chiefs had drafted tackle Dick Mills (Pitt) in the 9th round and running back Ronnie Hartline (Oklahoma) in the 18th round of the 1961 draft. Both players had been drafted by the Lions later on with Mills taken in the 3rd round and Hartline in the 4th. (Don’t make too much of an “18th” round pick. These were different days. Remember Mike Garrett, a Heisman Trophy winner, was taken in the 20th round of the 1966 AFL draft).
Hunt, pleased with the lofty selections of both players by an old established NFL team, was quick to compliment his own scouting department in the letter, praising that it “could turn up in the later (my italics) rounds of the A.F. L. draft two boys who were so highly rated by an N.F.L. team.” Back-handed compliment? You could say that but knowing Hunt he likely intended it as a compliment.
In any case, and with memories of the year before still fresh in his mind, Hunt went on to say that he had “never been of a disposition to bring expensive litigation upon any one for the purpose of harassment or causing financial loss and certainly do not care to subject [Anderson] or the Lions to these conditions.”
The upshot: Hunt released both players from contracts that they had signed with the Texans for what he termed the simple reason that after “evaluating our other candidates who Mills and Hartline would be obliged to compete with, it appears very doubtful that they could remain on our roster.”
What Anderson must have thought after receiving this letter I don’t know but I can guess. Meanwhile, to be told by Hunt that a “further study” of the Lions roster “leads us to believe that their chances with your club are excellent” but not the same with the Texans must have either perplexed Anderson or had him fuming.
In conclusion, Hunt said, after considering “the consequences of my choice upon these two football players and their professional careers…I frankly feel that it would work a hardship on both Mills and Hartline, as well as the Detroit Lions, for us to insist on our legal rights in these two cases and could possibly injure their chances of playing professional football.”
For the record, Mills played just two seasons for the Lions, appearing in 22 games. I can find no record no Hartline making Detroit’s or anyone’s team.