Len Dawson: Hall of Fame quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs dies at 87

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hall of Famer quarterback Len Dawson, whose undeniable pride in helping the Kansas City Chiefs win their first Super Bowl title earned him the nickname “Lenny the Cool,” died Wednesday. He was 87.

Dawson’s family announced his death in a statement through KMBC, the Kansas City-based television network on which he starred in his second career as a broadcaster. No reason was given, although Dawson’s health had been declining for years. He entered hospice care on August 12.

“With Ms. Linda by his side, it is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of our beloved Len Dawson,” the family statement said. “He was a wonderful husband, father, brother and friend. Len has always been grateful and often overwhelmed by the countless connections he has made throughout his football and broadcasting careers.”

Dawson was the MVP of the Chiefs’ 23-7 Super Bowl win over the Minnesota Vikings in January 1970.

“Len Dawson is synonymous with the Kansas City Chiefs,” owner Clark Hunt said in a statement Wednesday. “Len embraced Kansas City and embodied Kansas City and the people who call it home.

Dawson impersonated the Chiefs almost from the start, as the suave Purdue standout lost his start at Jobs in Pittsburgh and Cleveland and ended up with the burgeoning franchise, then based in Dallas. There Dawson reunited with Hank Stram, who had been an assistant at the Boilermakers, and together they switched franchises.

The coach and quarterback won the AFL championship together in 1962, their first year together, and became real stars the following year when club founder Lamar Hunt moved the team to Kansas City and renamed it the Chiefs.

They won two more AFL titles, one in 1966 when they lost to the Green Bay Packers in the first Super Bowl and the other in 1969 when Dawson returned from injury to help beat the Vikings at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans .

“Looking back on my career, I’ve been blessed for what I’ve been able to do,” Dawson told The Associated Press in 2017, shortly after announcing his retirement from his second career as a Hall of Famer. “I could not have achieved so much without my teammates and colleagues and I am grateful to each and every one of them.”

Dawson always remained a popular figure in Kansas City, even though he cut back on his public appearances a few years ago when his health began to fail. But he always had time for fans, whether a photo or a signature, the latter often in an iconic black-and-white photo from halftime that first Super Bowl: the exhausted quarterback, white uniform caked with mud, sitting in a folding chair with a cigarette in his mouth and a bottle of Fresca at his feet.

It captured a time and place perfectly. And it perfectly captured a man who embodied composure and confidence.

Dawson was born on June 20, 1935, the ninth of eleven children who filled James and Annie Dawson’s home in the factory town of Alliance, Ohio. He was a triple athlete at Alliance High School, setting records in both football and basketball and turning his success on the gridiron into a scholarship offer from Purdue.

As a sophomore, he led the NCAA in passing efficiency while also playing defense and kicking, and helped lead a Notre Dame upset that 1954 season. By the end of his collegiate career, Dawson had thrown for more than 3,000 yards despite playing in an era when ground-and-pound football was favored.

Dawson was selected by the Steelers in the first round of the 1957 draft, but he was benched as a rookie behind Earl Morrall and failed to beat Bobby Layne for his starting job the following season. The Steelers eventually traded him to the Browns, where Dawson failed to hit Milt Plum for the job and was fired.

One of the great disappointments of Dawson’s career ended on a positive note.

With the newfound freedom to sign anywhere, Dawson moved on to upstart AFL and the Texans, lured in part by the chance to play for one of his old coaches at Purdue. Stram capitalized on his talent and helped Dawson quickly become one of the league’s most prolific passers as the Texans went 11-3 to capture the first of three championships.

The second came in 1966 when Dawson led the Chiefs to an 11-2-1 record and a 31-7 blowout by the Bills in the AFL title game. That earned the Chiefs a chance to face off against the powerhouse Packers — and coach Vince Lombardi — in the first Super Bowl, where Dawson rushed for 210 yards and a touchdown in a 35-10 loss.

However, it was the 1969 season that proved to be the most memorable of Dawson’s career. He suffered a serious knee injury in Week 2 against the Patriots and had to miss the next five games. But he went back on the field. Dawson led the Chiefs to victories over defending champions Jets and bitter rivals Raiders to reach the final Super Bowl before the AFL-NFL merger, where he threw for 142 yards in a 23-7 win.

“It was overwhelming,” Dawson said afterwards. “It’s just, you know how that relief comes, you know it’s over, and we were successful? That’s the feeling I had coming off the field.”

Dawson played six more seasons at Kansas City and set many franchise records that stood until a youngster named Patrick Mahomes showed up before hanging up his helmet after the 1975 season.

“RIP to the legend Len Dawson,” Mahomes wrote in a tweet. “The legacy and impact you left on Kansas City will live on forever.”

Along the way, Dawson built a second career in broadcasting from what began as a publicity stunt.

In 1966, then-General Manager of the Chiefs Jack Steadman wanted to garner support for the Kansas City franchise and convinced Dawson to anchor a sports segment on the evening news. His natural charisma and folksy style made Dawson a natural. After the end of his playing career, he turned to television and radio full-time.

Dawson worked on local television for several decades, adding game analysis for NBC from 1977-1982 and hosting the legendary HBO show Inside the NFL from 1977-2001. He also served on the Chiefs’ radio station team for more than three decades.

After being inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1987, Dawson was inducted as a broadcaster in 2012.

“It has been a true privilege and honor to have Len at the heart of our broadcast team for the past 33 years,” said Dan Israel, executive producer of the Chiefs’ radio station, after his retirement several years ago. “His contributions not only to this sport but to our industry are incredibly profound.”

Dawson was married to his high school sweetheart Jackie from 1954 until her death in 1978, and they had two children together. His second wife, Linda, stayed by his side when Dawson entered hospice care.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://abc7.com/len-dawson-kansas-city-chiefs-nfl-hall-of-famer-dies-lenny-the-cool/12161231/ Len Dawson: Hall of Fame quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs dies at 87

Laura Coffey

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