A future Hall of Fame quarterback was hidden in the depth charts of both the Pittsburgh Steelers (and the Cleveland Browns).
Six years after his professional career ended, Len Dawson received his first opportunity to be a bona-fide starter with the Dallas Texans in 1962. Dawson and the soon to be Kansas City Chiefs franchise didn’t look back.
Dawson, who was 87 years old, won three AFL championships, and led Kansas City to its first Super Bowl win. Dawson was the Super Bowl IV MVP as his Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-7.
Dawson was admitted to hospice care, according to the Associated Press report on Aug. 12. However, no cause of death was reported.
Clark Hunt, Chiefs Chairman and CEO, stated that his family was heartbroken. “Len Dawson is synonymous to the Kansas City Chiefs. Len was a Kansas City native and became a symbol of Kansas City. It would be difficult to find another player who had such an impact on shaping the organization today as Len Dawson.
Dawson was drafted by the Steelers fifth in the 1957 NFL Draft. He would play 19 professional seasons. Two-time All-Pro Dawson led the league’s completion percentage record on eight occasions and was the leader in touchdown passes four times. Dawson, one of the most respected QBs in the 1960s, was outshadowed by his contemporaries Johnny Unitas and Sonny Jurgensen.
Dawson spent his first five professional seasons as a bench player. However, he enjoyed a remarkable career, which saw him inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his achievements in 1987. He had passed for 28,711 yards with 239 touchdowns during his career. He still holds the franchise record for most TD passes with 237 and 28,507 yards as a Chief. He was a part of six AFL all star games and one Pro Bowl.
Jim Porter, Hall of Fame president, stated that Len grew up just a few miles away from the site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He said that the region’s fans take a special pride seeing one of the greatest players from the region honored in Canton. Fans connected with Len’s story of perseverance and appreciated how he kept the game alive after five less than stellar seasons.
“The American Football League and Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram gave Len an opportunity and he made the most of that, making the Chiefs a contender for the Super Bowl and then a world champion.”
As remarkable as Dawson’s playing career was for many generations, his contributions to HBO’s seminal Intimate NFL was what made him a household name. It was a weekly, in-season, show that looked at every NFL game, and it was a highlight of his life. Dawson was not only an analyst, but he also hosted the show and led a cast that included Cris Collinsworth and Nick Buoniconti. Although Dawson did not join the show until its second-season, he was still the show’s heartbeat. He co-hosted it for four decades, from 1978 to 2001. Although HBO wasn’t the juggernaut that it would be, HBO at the time Dawson joined the show was Inside the NFL one of the early staples.
Len Dawson, former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, reminisces about his encounter with ex-Green Bay Packers QB Bart Starr during Super Bowl I
Dawson was a professional player after a brief stint as a backup during three seasons in Pittsburgh, and two in Cleveland. Dawson was released by the Browns and joined the AFL’s Texans, where he quickly led them to a win over the Houston Oilers in the 1962 AFL Championship Game. Dawson finished the victory game 9 of 14 with 88 yards, a touchdown and survived six sacks to help his team win.
Dawson led the Chiefs to another AFL championship in 1966, when they beat the Buffalo Bills, en route to a Super Bowl I appearance. On that fateful day at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 35-10, Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers defeated the Chiefs. Dawson still performed admirably, with a 211 yard showing and a TD passing. Dawson was also the team’s top rusher, with a record 24 yards. This is a testament to how difficult it was for Kansas City to move the ball against Green Bay.
In 1969, Dawson and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl and were victorious over the Vikings. Dawson completed 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards, with a touchdown pass and an interception to earn MVP honors.
After the 1975 season, Dawson, who had led the AFL’s passer rating six times in a row, decided to retire. He was also the AFL’s leader in QB wins and completion percentages, passer rating, touchdown passes, and passer rating. He was also the 1973 NFL Man-of-the Year. This is a testament to his excellence on the field as well as his class and positive nature off the field.
Before Drew Brees was praised for his pinpoint accuracy during the passing game, there were Dawson.
Before Patrick Mahomes was a wonderkind who produced stunning numbers and led Chiefs to their second Super Bowl title, there was Dawson.
He was a great quarterback, a legend in Chiefs history.