In the midst of the NFL offseason, cover32 debuts a series entitled, Mount Rushmore where various writers list the top 4 for the topic at hand. The Mount Rushmore series comes on the heels of the Doppelganger, Roundtable, and Debate series.
In this edition, National Co-Editor and Patriots’ Managing Editor, Ian Glendon, gives you the Mount Rushmore of NFL owners.
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The rich history of the NFL dates back well beyond the Super Bowl-era. Since the infancy of the league, owners have had great influence on the evolution of the game and the league itself. However, there are a few that have had far-reaching influence on the game. Their contributions have spanned generations and have had a lasting effect on the game today.
Mount Rushmore, one of the Nations most cherished landmarks, bears the faces of four of the most influential Presidents that have ever led this country. Today, we will make the Mount Rushmore of the most influential owners of yesterday and today.
Not only is Lamar Hunt one of the pioneers of the NFL, he may be one of the most influential owners in all of sports. His upstart Dallas Texans were one of the original AFL franchises and had such a hold on the region that the NFL put a team of their own there: the Dallas Cowboys. Hunt eventually moved the team to Kansas City and became the Chiefs.
However, Hunt will best be remembered as one of the driving forces of the AFL-NFL merger. Hunt wanted to compete directly with the NFL which eventually led to a merger and the playing of an AFL-NFL Championship at year’s end. Later renamed the Super Bowl. Hunt’s influence on the league resonates to this day and we are reminded every time the ‘Lamar Hunt Trophy’ is presented to the winner of the American Football Conference.
Most younger fans may remember Davis as the man who publicly read a letter addressed to former coach Lane Kiffin. In addition to other odd moments in his final years. However, Davis did more for the advancement of race relations in the NFL than any owner before him. During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Davis refused to have the Raiders play in cities where black and white players were required to stay in separate hotels.
Davis became the first owner in the modern era to hire an African-American head coach when he pegged former player, Art Shell, to lead the franchise. (Fritz Pollard was the first African-American head coach in the NFL during the 1920’s). He was also the first owner to hire a female as a chief executive officer.
Along with Lamar Hunt, Davis was a driving force behind the emergence of the AFL and eventually the merger with the NFL. Davis was an owner, coach, and general manager in the AFL. In addition, he served as the league’s commissioner in the late 60’s before the merger.
At the time of his death, Wilson was the third longest tenured owner of a team at 54 years. Just behind Art Rooney (55 years) and George Halas (63 years). Again, another pioneer of the AFL, Wilson paid $25,000 to form the Bills and give Buffalo their first professional sports franchise. At the time, Wilson was a minority owner of the Detroit Lions of the NFL.
Wilson was one of the innovators of league operations, helping to establish a gate and T.V. revenue sharing system amongst the owners. He was also instrumental in keeping a few franchises afloat in the early AFL days. Most notably, the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots.
The Bills would end up going to four-straight Super Bowls under Wilson’s leadership. They won two AFL Championships previously to that.
A few owners were considered for this final spot, but over the last 23-years, no owner has been more successful and therefore more influential than Kraft. Since he purchased the franchise in 1994, the Patriots have won more games than any other franchise. Under his ownership, the Patriots have been to eight Super Bowls, winning five.
Kraft was a Patriots season ticket holder for years before he purchased the team. As the old Foxboro Stadium was due to come down, Kraft used his own capital and private investments, as opposed to the taxpayer’s dollars, to fund a new stadium and prevent the team from moving to St. Louis.
He has been instrumental in the expansion of the television deals for the NFL and a philanthropist outside of the game. Under his guidance, the course of an entire franchise’s history has done a complete about-face.
– Ian Glendon is a National Co-Editor for cover32 and the Managing Editor for cover32/Patriots. He covers the NFL and New England Patriots. Like and follow on Follow @iglen31 Follow @cover32_NE and Facebook.