Ex-Chargers owner, AFL co-founder Hilton dies

Barron Hilton, the heir to a hotel fortune who was one of the founders of the American Football League, died Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 91.

Hilton was the original owner of the Los Angeles Chargers and went on to become president of the AFL. In 1965, he helped negotiate the merger of the AFL and NFL and the inception of the Super Bowl.

"The happiest days of my life were the days I was involved with the Chargers," Hilton told the Los Angeles Times in 2009.

The AFL was the brainchild of Texas oilmen Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams, who had been spurned in their attempts to get NFL expansion franchises. They decided to start a rival league, contacted other wealthy entrepreneurs and asked them to join in. Hilton was invited to join the "Foolish Club," as the owners called themselves, and put his Chargers in Los Angeles in 1959 before moving them to San Diego in 1961.

Hilton owned the team -- originally coached by the Sid Gillman and quarterbacked by Jack Kemp -- for six seasons, during which they won the league's Western Division five times and the AFL championship in 1963.

"Simply put, the modern NFL would not be what it is today without the vision of Barron Hilton," Chargers owner Dean Spanos said in a statement. "A founding father and charter member of the upstart AFL's sarcastically dubbed 'Foolish Club,' Barron was a pioneering leader, risk-taking entrepreneur, prolific philanthropist, devoted family man and, of course, anything but foolish.

"... It seems fitting that we celebrate a life extraordinarily well-lived the same year as we recognize the Chargers' 60th anniversary season since without Barron, there would be no Chargers."