Clark Hunt thought the issue was dead.
There was hope four years ago that a great dream that had passed through generations was becoming real. There were hurdles to be crossed, sure. Arrowhead Stadium needed a retractable roof. The city needed to upgrade its amenities. But the point was that it was possible: a Super Bowl in Kansas City.
Then a tax referendum failed, and the idea of what was known as the "rolling roof" withered and died. So, it appeared, did talk of a Super Bowl. Of bringing the NFL's championship game to the backyard of Lamar Hunt, the man whose persistence four decades ago helped make the Super Bowl possible.
"I thought that door was closed forever," says Clark Hunt, who took over as Chiefs chairman after his father died in 2006.
Then the whispers started again. Talk of a Super Bowl in a cold-weather city grew warmer, then boiled over when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced in May that New Meadowlands Stadium near New York, without a roof, would play host to the 2014 Super Bowl — in the teeth of winter.
The issue was alive again. Ears perked up around the country. Hunt was ready to pursue an idea that might still be unlikely, but "unlikely" is so much easier to navigate than "impossible."
"New York," Hunt says, "is a game-changer."
Goodell knows what the Super Bowl means to football fans. He knows what it would mean to Kansas City — or Green Bay, or anywhere else where ears perked up three months ago, those salt-of-the-earth communities where football was born and raised before it grew up.
He doesn't want to crush anyone's spirit, but he admitted "There's a lot of challenges," on Friday morning outside of Arrowhead.
Infrastructure is the issue. That's a fancy way to say that Kansas City lacks the 25,000 hotel rooms that the NFL considers when awarding a Super Bowl. It lacks the convention space, restaurants and a cutting-edge mass-transit system. It doesn't have a brilliant downtown experience that needs to occupy thousands of visitors for upward of two weeks. The Power & Light District is a nice start, but it takes more than nine city blocks to entertain the nearly 110,000 visitors to this year's Super Bowl in Miami — and the $333 million they spent there.
Jacksonville did it in 2005, a small-market NFL city that attracted the biggest game of them all. It wasn't easy. Hotel space was a problem there too — six cruise ships had to dock and serve as floating hotels for about 7,600 people. But Jacksonville had two advantages that Kansas City lacks: a nearby beach and a downtown stadium.
Still, those features weren't enough to overshadow Jacksonville's shortcomings: It was rainy and cold throughout Super Bowl week, and when it was over, some said the Super Bowl should never be held outside the big three host sites: Miami, New Orleans and San Diego.
Ron Labinski has been to more than 30 Super Bowls. He designed and built stadiums all over the world during his 35 years as an architect. His job, until he partially retired eight years ago, was to visit a location and see what it needed to become a terrific sports town. The man lives in Kansas City.
"It's more than a weather issue," Labinski says. "There are a lot of issues. The New York thing does crack the door.
"It's still going to be a tough one. There's work to be done."
And that's what Goodell wants you to know. No, it's not impossible. It's just not probable — not without commitments from city officials and corporations, and dollars flowing from both sides of the state line, and by gosh, the New York Super Bowl had better go perfectly, or else a place like Kansas City doesn't have a chance.
"It's not a Chiefs project or a Jackson County project," Hunt says. "It's a city-wide project that has to have everybody involved."
Standing in an air-conditioned room on the north side of Arrowhead, Hunt talks about the cosmetic and practical upgrades that still look and smell new. This project is finished. Perhaps a new one is on the horizon.
Hunt at least has Goodell willing to consider it.
"As the Super Bowl gets bigger and bigger, it gets more and more challenging for some cities," Goodell says. "Let's see how our experience goes in 2014."