Len Dawson, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback who led the upstart Kansas City Chiefs to a berth in the very first Super Bowl and victory three years later before embarking on an acclaimed career as a broadcaster, has died.
Dawson, who was 87, had been in hospice care in recent days. His family announced Wednesday morning that he died at his home in Kansas City with his wife, Linda, at his bedside.
“Len was always grateful and sometimes overwhelmed by the countless bonds he made during his football and broadcast careers,” Dawson’s family said in a statement. “He loved Kansas City, and no matter where his travels took him, he could not wait to return home.”
"He loved Kansas City and no matter where his travels took him, he could not wait to return home."
Rest well, Len. ❤️
— KMBC (@kmbc) August 24, 2022
Born the seventh son of a seventh son in Alliance, Ohio, Dawson chose Purdue over the Woody Hayes-coached Ohio State Buckeyes, then known for a relentless running game and the motto “three yards and a cloud of dust.” As a Boilermaker, Dawson was a three-year starter and led the Big 10 in passing yards. He also played defense and served as the team’s kicker and was a third-team All-American in 1956, his senior year.
Although Dawson was a first-found draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, his professional career got off to a sluggish start. The Steelers signed fellow future Hall of Famer Bobby Layne the following year, making Dawson expendable. Dawson was traded to the Cleveland Browns, where he was beaten out by Milt Plum and ultimately released.
But when Dawson signed with the American Football League’s Dallas Texans, where he was united with coaching great Hank Stram, things began to click. In 1962, Dawson led the upstart league in touchdowns and was named MVP. Under Dawson, the team, which moved to Kansas City and became the Chiefs, would win three straight league titles. His 30 touchdown passes in 1964 were a team record until current Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes broke it in 2018.
In 1966, the year the AFL champions and their NFL counterparts met in the first Super Bowl, Dawson’s Chiefs lost to Vince Lombardi’s legendary Green Bay Packers by a 35-10 score. But it was the 1969 season, and Super Bowl early in the following year which would be Dawson’s crowning achievement.
After suffering what appeared to be a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the season, Dawson came back after just a five-game absence. He led the team into the playoffs, where it defeated Joe Namath’s defending Super Bowl winners on the way to a championship matchup against the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings. Dawson completed 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown in a 23-7 victory.
The Super Bowl championship was all the more remarkable given that Dawson had been mistakenly linked to a gambling scandal just prior to the game.
Dawson retired in 1976, after posting career numbers of 239 touchdown passes and 28,711 yards.
Dawson, who was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1987, had laid the groundwork for a broadcasting career while still playing. In 1966, he became sports director at KMBC-TV in Kansas City, and would anchor a nightly sportscast during off-seasons for decades, finally stepping down in 2009. From 1977 to 2001, he hosted the HBO show “Inside the NFL,” and also served as a pro football analyst for NBC from 1977 to 1982. He was the Chiefs radio network’s color commentator from 1985-2017.