Hall of Fame Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson dies at 87 | Thread
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Whether in the band during the early days of the AFL or behind the microphone as the NFL grew into the giant it is today, Len Dawson has behaved with an undeniable swagger and self-assurance that earned him the well-worn nickname “Lenny the Cool”.
He was a Hall of Fame quarterback who led the Kansas City Chiefs to their first Super Bowl championship, then a Hall of Fame broadcaster who brought football into the homes of millions around the world. iconic HBO show “Inside the NFL”.
“Len was my first sports hero and he remained someone I admired and respected all his life,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said. “His impact on the Kansas City Chiefs and everyone who has worked for the organization cannot be overstated.”
Dawson’s family announced his death Wednesday at the age of 87. No cause was given, although Dawson had prostate cancer and quadruple heart bypass surgery over the years. He had been in palliative care since August 12.
The Chiefs intend to honor Dawson in their preseason finale against Green Bay on Thursday night, Hunt said, although details are yet to be determined. Other commemorations will be arranged according to the wishes of his family.
“With his wife Linda by his side, it is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of our beloved Len Dawson,” his family said in a statement released by KMBC, the television station where he worked as a presenter. “Len has always been grateful and many times overwhelmed by the countless connections he has made during his football and broadcasting career.”
Dawson’s career was going nowhere when he joined the Hunt family’s fledgling AFL franchise, then based in Dallas. But with Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram, Dawson led him to three AFL titles and two Super Bowls; the Chiefs would lose to Green Bay in the first before beating Minnesota three years later at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans.
He was the MVP in that 23-7 triumph over the Vikings in January 1970, then set many franchise records that Patrick Mahomes is only now breaking. Dawson was signed to Canton as a player in 1987, then received the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
“I’ve been blessed for what I’ve had the opportunity to do,” Dawson told The Associated Press in 2017. “I couldn’t have accomplished so much without my teammates and colleagues, and I’m grateful for each of them.”
Dawson remained a beloved figure in Kansas City, even as his health declined and he reduced his public appearances. He would go out of his way to give fans time, be it a photograph or a signature. The latter was often scrawled in a headline photo from the first Super Bowl halftime show: the exhausted quarterback, a white uniform covered in grass stains, sitting in a folding chair with a cigarette in his mouth and a bottle of Fresca. at his feet.
He perfectly captured a moment and a place. And he captured “Lenny the Cool” perfectly.
“He was always under control,” Stram recalled years later. “I once told him, ‘Leonard, make sure you never let them see you sweat. And he said, “Coach, quarterbacks don’t sweat. Quarterbacks sweat.”
Sophisticated but blue-collar at heart, Dawson was born June 20, 1935, the ninth of 11 children to James and Annie Dawson in the manufacturing town of Alliance, Ohio. He was a three-sport athlete at Alliance High School, setting football and basketball records, but focused on the gridiron with a scholarship to Purdue.
Dawson led the NCAA in passing efficiency as a sophomore while also playing defense and kicking. And by the end of his college career, he had thrown more than 3,000 yards in an era defined by ground football.
He was chosen by the Steelers in the first round of the 1957 draft, but ended up on the bench behind Earl Morrall as a rookie, then failed to beat Bobby Layne for the starting job the following season. When the Steelers traded him to the Browns, Dawson couldn’t beat Milt Plum for the job and was summarily released.
With the sudden freedom to play anywhere, Dawson jumped to the upstart AFL and the Texans, lured in part by the chance to play for one of his former Purdue coaches. It was Stram who was able to tap into his talent, helping Dawson become one of the league’s prolific passers, as the Texans went 11-3 in 1962 and won the first of three titles together.
The second came in 1966, when Dawson led the Chiefs to an 11-2-1 record and a 31-7 loss to the Bills in the AFL title game. That earned the Chiefs the chance to face coach Vince Lombardi’s mighty Packers in the first Super Bowl, where Dawson threw for 210 yards and a touchdown in a 35-10 loss.
It was the 1969 season, however, that proved to be the most memorable of Dawson’s career. He suffered a knee injury against the Patriots in Week 2, forcing them to miss the next five games, but returned to lead the Chiefs over defending champion Jets and rival Raiders to reach what would be the last Super Bowl before the AFL-NFL merger.
“It was overwhelming,” Dawson said after the win over Minnesota. “It’s just, you know how that relief comes with you now that it’s over, and we made it?” This is the feeling I had when I left the field.
Dawson played six more seasons in Kansas City, setting many records until Mahomes arrived. The two became fast friends, and Dawson was overjoyed when the young quarterback led the Chiefs to their second Super Bowl title with a behind-the-scenes victory over the 49ers in February 2020.
“RIP to legend Len Dawson,” Mahomes tweeted on Wednesday, alongside photos of them together. “The legacy and impact you left in Kansas City will live on forever.”
While many fans know Dawson from his playing days, others think of his broadcasting career first. It started as a publicity stunt in 1966, when then-Chiefs general manager Jack Steadman was trying to build local support for the team. Steadman persuaded Dawson to anchor a late-night sports segment on television, and his charisma and folksy charm made him a natural.
Dawson turned to broadcasting full-time after his playing days ended, working both on local television and doing national game analysis for NBC. But he’s perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work alongside Nick Buoniconti on the HBO staple “Inside the NFL,” which helped the growing league reach millions of fans.
Dawson also served more than three decades on the Chiefs’ radio broadcast team before retiring in 2018.
“I did all those post-games with him and I think the world of him,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said at the time. “He’s been there, he’s done it – no matter the age gap or the time spent not being in caucus. He just gets it. I love that part. He’s a Hall of Famer all around.
Dawson was married to his high school girlfriend, Jackie, from 1954 until her death in 1978, and they had two children, Lisa and Len Jr. Dawson’s second wife, Linda, stayed by his side even when he went into palliative care.
“Len was really the first big sports celebrity in Kansas City,” Hunt said. “He was the undisputed leader of that Chiefs team that won the Super Bowl, and I think not only me, but everyone who cheered on the team at that time has a very fond memory and a very special connection to him. “