Kansas City Chiefs legend Len Dawson passed away Wednesday morning at 87 years old. We are all extremely sad at the passing of Mr. Chief, but let us remember the joy that he brought to all our lives. I speak for all of the Chiefs Kingdom when I start this article by passing all of our collective deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Dawson. He was loved by all of us and will be greatly missed.
Remembering The Legendary Career Of A Chiefs Hall Of Famer
But this article isn’t about the sadness of Len passing away. This article concerns the good times and relieving his greatness in Kansas City. The beginning of him and his long road to and in Kansas City began with his decision to attend the University of Purdue in 1953. A key reason he chose Purdue over the great Ohio State University was because of his connection with an assistant coach there. That coach’s name was Hank Stram.
Fast forward nine years and Stram is the head coach of the Dallas Texans and Len is a free agent going into his sixth season in the NFL. Both men were happy to reunite and it showed as they hit the ground running. After a 14-14 start in the first two seasons of the franchise, Dawson helped lead the Texans to an 11-3 record and won the team’s first AFL Championship. Dawson led the AFL in touchdown passes on his way to winning the AFL MVP award that season.
It was after that season that team owner Lamar Hunt moved the Texans from Dallas to Kansas City and renamed them the Chiefs. The rest, as they like to say, is history. In total, Dawson played 14 years with the Chiefs, leading them to three AFL Championships, and two Super Bowl appearances including the Super Bowl Championship in 1970.
It was during halftime of the first Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers that the picture was taken that became legendary. There sitting on a metal folding chair in the middle of the locker room is Dawson, smoking a cigarette with a Fresca on the floor between his feet. Despite the team losing that game, the picture earned him the nickname “Lenny The Cool”.
During his playing career, he threw for 28,711 yards and 239 touchdowns. Those do not seem like impressive numbers by today’s standards but Dawson ranked fifth all-time in both categories at the time of his retirement. His list of accomplishments and awards is legendary.
Dawson led the AFL in passing touchdowns four times, passer rating six times, and completion percentage seven times. He was a six-time AFL All-Star, two-time first-team All-AFL, AFL MVP, AFL Championship Game MVP, and member of the AFL All-Time Team. He made one Pro Bowl, was awarded Super Bowl IV MVP and won the NFL Man of the Year Award in 1973. His number 16 was retired by the Chiefs when he was put into the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 1979. He was then enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame in 1987.
Legend And Love For Dawson Extends Beyond His Chiefs Career
Books have literally been written about Dawson’s playing career, so I could go on and on about that. But Len was so much more than that to Kansas City. I was born in 1982, so I never saw Len take a snap of the football, but what I did see was Dawson on my television every night on KMBC-TV news. I also saw him on his HBO show “Inside The NFL”.
Dawson started his broadcasting career in 1966 when he became the sports director at KMBC-TV. For those reading who think that date can’t be right, because he didn’t retire until 1976, the date is accurate. Dawson began his career in broadcasting while he was still playing in the NFL. Can you imagine Patrick Mahomes practicing and then being in the press core asking Andy Reid questions and doing the news that night to talk about the team? Well, Len did that for nine years.
He remained as a full-time sports anchor on KMBC-TV until he retired from the desk after 43 years in 2009. He still made appearances on the news during the football season, but being able to turn on channel nine at 10:00 pm and know you would see Len was gone. You did not realize what you were missing until that first time you turned on the news and he wasn’t there and you had to question if you could trust who was talking.
That was not the only time we got to see or hear from Dawson. He was the host of HBO’s Inside the NFL from 1977 to 2001. Before there was an NFL Network or ESPN had NFL Live, the only NFL central sports show on television was Inside the NFL. Millions of NFL fans learned to love the game outside of Kansas City from watching Dawson on HBO.
He started his game analyst career the same year he joined HBO in 1977. He was a color analyst for NBC from 1977 to 1982 before finding his way back to Arrowhead. In 1985 Len joined the Chiefs radio broadcast team as a color analyst. Like the rest of his career, once Dawson started a job in Kansas City, it became his home. He was on the call for every Chiefs game from 1985 until he retired in 2017. For those my age, the Chiefs were Bill Grigsby and Len Dawson on the radio.
Television analysts came and went, but when you turned on the radio you knew you were getting Grigs and Len. Everyone knows the smell of Arrowhead stadium pregame, that glorious tailgate smell. But people forget the sounds, and the sounds were Grigs and Len playing on 20,000 radios at the same time. I love Mitch Holthus and will never take him for granted, but those childhood memories of tailgating every single Sunday listening to Grigs and Len just can’t be beaten for me.
Legendary Career On And Off The Field For The Chiefs And Beyond
Dawson made it to the NFL Hall of Fame for a second time in 2012 when he won the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. The award is given to one person a year for their longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football. It was a well-earned honor for a man who became as well known for his post-playing days broadcasting as he was for his NFL career. In that way, he is like another Hall of Famer who passed away in the last year; John Madden.
After Dawson went into hospice, Carrington Harrison of 610 sports radio in Kansas City made a comment that made me think. He said that he didn’t think Len was as appreciated in Kansas City as he was outside of town. He said this based on conversations with people outside of Kansas City who were in awe of Len and went out of their way to meet him and be excited about getting to meet the great Len Dawson.
In some ways, Carrington was spot on. Most in Kansas City are not in awe of Len in that way. We all know Len is Mr. Chief and on any Mount Rushmore of Kansas City athletes. But, there is not the same reaction. I don’t think that it is for the reason he was hinting at that we took him for granted.
We weren’t in awe. We didn’t treat Len like a superhero, because that is not who Dawson was to Kansas City. To Kansas City, Len was family. I refer to him throughout this article as Len and not Mr. Dawson because I feel like he was a member of my family. He was there every night on the news to tell me about my favorite thing in the world; sports.
As a season ticket holder since 1989, driving to Arrowhead with my Dad to watch the Chiefs, we listened to Len get us ready to make Arrowhead loud. After a tough loss, he was there to talk us off a ledge so by the time we got home it, was okay. After a big win, he shared in our excitement.
Yes, Len Dawson was an NFL and national sportscaster legend, known all across the country. To them, he’s Lenny The Cool and Hall of Famer Len Dawson. But to us in Kansas City, we view him more like a friend or family member. He was a part of our sports lives like no other individual in Kansas City has ever been. I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, but I feel comfortable still saying I am going to miss my friend. I know he’s going to be watching games on Sunday, him and Grigs having a bea-u-ti-ful time watching the Chiefs this season. Let’s win for Len!