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The National Football League lost a giant of its sport when Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, a founder of the old American Football League and sportsman who brought an end to the AFL-NFL war with a merger, died last week from a battle with prostate cancer.

As it happened, the Chiefs’ first game was at the Chargers, and there actually was speculation to be heard on TV, radio and the Internet that Hunt’s loss would motivate the Chiefs to upset the Chargers. The Chargers played a nice tribute to Hunt before the game on the video scoreboard and asked for a moment of silence.

I don’t mean to sound disrespectful of Hunt, but who would expect millionaire pro athletes – most of whom have little appreciation of the stage that was built for them by pioneers of their sport – to be motivated to win one, so to speak, for the Gipper?

Maybe in high school and college sports, where the coach is often a second father, teams would reach down for something inside them to honor their lost leader. But not in the modern-day NFL.

The Chiefs did indeed give the Chargers a tough game as the Bolts needed defense and big plays from LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner to hold on for a 20-9 win Sunday night at Qualcomm Stadium as the AFC West champions improved to 12-2.

Tomlinson, the Chargers’ NFL MVP favorite, ran for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Turner, in his first game back from missing three weeks with a hamstring injury, ran 25 yards on a fake punt to set up the Chargers’ first touchdown and returned a kickoff 58 yards to set up a field goal.

But the only emotions at work in this game was one team, the Chargers, trying to maintain their home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win and the Chiefs needing to win to keep alive dwindling playoff hopes.

Kansas City head coach Herman Edwards, a San Diego State alumnus, provided some proper perspective after the game.

“I think the thing we fail to realize is that football isn’t like it was 15 to 20 years ago when your team stuck together,” Edwards said. “Players had a chance to play with one team for an extended period of time. I think the older guys that knew Mr. Hunt maybe felt a little deferent than some of the younger guys. All week we tried to educate them on the man who was our owner but also on what he has done for pro football.”

They tried to educate them, but they shouldn’t have been in that position. The players should have already known for themselves what Hunt meant to the checks they cash.

– TOM SHANAHAN

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