Kansas City’s first quarterback, Len Dawson, passes away at the age of 87. The Hall of Famer left a long-lasting legacy in his adopted home and in the world of football.
In 1963 the Dallas Texans of the American Football League moved to Kansas City and renamed themselves the Kansas City Chiefs. Lamar Hunt moved his team into Municipal Stadium near downtown Kansas City where they would win three AFL Titles and a Super Bowl Championship until officially joining the NFL in 1970. But through all of the turmoil and the moving, they had the coolest quarterback this side of the Mississippi River, Lenny Dawson.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer and Super Bowl Champion passed away Wednesday at the age of 87, he was not only a quarterback, but he was also a broadcaster, a leader, and a legend of Kansas City sports. Len Dawson was a unique individual, he not only led the Chiefs on the field but would also cover sports for national and local TV stations, mainly KMBC 9.
Len Dawson was born in Alliance, Ohio in 1935, Alliance is a small town outside of Canton, Ohio, and went to Purdue University from 1953-56 where he played defensive back and kicker while playing Quarterback for the Boilermakers. While at Purdue, he was named an All-American and to multiple All-Big Ten Teams. He was drafted by the nearby Pittsburgh Steelers in 1957, where the Steelers didn’t use him, and eventually was traded to his hometown Cleveland Browns.
In Cleveland, he fought with coaches and had problems winning the starting job before Head Coach Hank Stram called him in 1962 asking him to join the AFL’s Dallas Texans. Stram coached Len at Purdue and knew he needed him for the Texans to win the AFL Title and finally beat the Houston Oilers.
In his first year in Dallas, he won the AFL MVP, was named first-team All-AFL, and pushed the Texans over the top, winning the franchise’s first championship over the Houston Oilers. Then the next year, the Texans moved to Kansas City and the new-look Chiefs were still one of the best teams in the AFL. In 1964 Len Dawson had his best year throwing for a then-record 30 touchdowns and 2,600 yards.
In 1966, the Chiefs won their second AFL Championship and went to play in the first Super Bowl against the NFL Champion Green Bay Packers. The Chiefs didn’t play well and got blown out by Vincent Lombardi’s Packers, but one of the most iconic images from the game was a half-time photo of Lenny taking a drag from a cigarette while drinking a glass bottle of Fresca.
The photo helped to solidify his nickname, “Lenny the Cool” and is still remembered as one of the most famous photographs from Super Bowl History. And Lenny stayed cool and calm over the next couple of seasons winning a lot of games, but losing to the eventual AFL Champions Raiders in 1967, and eventual Super Bowl Champion Jets in the playoffs. Then in 1969, the Chiefs were finally in the position to get to another Super Bowl and finally get over the hump.
The Chiefs went on to beat the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets in the AFL Playoffs and went to Super Bowl IV against the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings. The Chiefs went on to win the Super Bowl with one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl History, 65 Toss Power Trap.
Lenny was a legend here in Kansas City, he helped to shape Kansas City sports, after his career with the Chiefs he went on to become a broadcaster for the local ABC Station and was one of the voices of the Chiefs radio call for over 40 years. He was one of the first athletes to transition to broadcasting and always represented Kansas City.
Dawson was an incredible human being, always telling stories and spreading the love of the game of football. He not only covered the game locally but also joined HBO’s “Inside the NFL” show for 15 years and was on TV for NBC for decades.
In 1987, he was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the third Chiefs player inducted behind linebackers Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell. Lenny was one of the longest-standing sports figures in Kansas City, he loved his Chiefs and his city. He and Patrick Mahomes had a couple of interviews together and Mahomes honored “Lenny the Cool” after breaking his single-season touchdown record. He really loved the Chiefs and the city he adopted, and we loved him right back.
Rest in Peace Lenny.