Len Dawson Led Chiefs to First Super Bowl

Quarterback helped build league's fan base on ' Inside the NFL'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 25, 2022 5:08 PM CDT
Len Dawson Led Chiefs to First Super Bowl
Len Dawson is introduced before the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest in 2014 in Cleveland.   (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)

Whether it was in the huddle during the early days of the AFL or behind the microphone as the NFL grew into the behemoth it is today, Len Dawson carried himself with an unmistakable 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 on the iconic HBO show Inside the NFL. Dawson's family announced his death Wednesday at age 87, the AP reports. No cause was given, though Dawson had had prostate cancer and quadruple heart bypass surgery over the years.

"Len was my first sports hero, and he remained someone I admired and respected his entire 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 career was going nowhere when he joined the Hunt family's nascent AFL franchise, then located in Dallas. But along with Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram, Dawson led it to three AFL titles and two Super Bowls; the Chiefs would lose to Green Bay in the inaugural one before beating Minnesota three years later in New Orleans. He was the MVP of that 23-7 triumph over the Vikings in January 1970, then proceeded to set numerous franchise records that only now Patrick Mahomes is surpassing. Dawson was enshrined in 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 had the opportunity to do," Dawson said in 2017. "I could not 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 he cut back on public appearances because of declining health. He made time for fans, whether it be for a photograph or signature. The latter often was scrawled upon a seminal photo from halftime of the first Super Bowl: the exhausted quarterback, white uniform covered in grass stains, sitting on a folding chair with a cigarette in his mouth and a bottle of Fresca at his feet. It perfectly captured the time and place. "He was always under control," Stram recalled years later. "I said to him once, 'Leonard, make sure that you never let them see you sweat.' And he said, 'Coach, quarterbacks don’t sweat. Quarterbacks perspire.'" (Read more obituary stories.)

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