Len Dawson, a player and broadcaster who led the Kansas City Chiefs to victory in Super Bowl IV and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has died at age 87, according to his family.
“Along with his wife, Linda, we are deeply saddened to inform you of the passing of our beloved Len Dawson,” the family said in a statement to KMBC in Kansas City, where Lawson previously worked as a sports broadcaster. “He was a wonderful husband, father, brother and friend. Len was forever grateful and overwhelmed many times by the countless bonds he made during his football and broadcasting career.
“He loved Kansas City, and wherever his travels took him, he couldn’t wait to return home.”
Dawson, who entered hospice care in Kansas City on Aug. 12, has worked for the Chiefs for nearly half a century: 14 years as a quarterback and 33 as a broadcast analyst.
He spent the first five years of his 19-season career as a little-used backup for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, but his career took off after signing to play for the AFL’s Dallas Texans (soon to be Kansas City) in 1962. Chiefs) to play under Hank Strom, who was an assistant at Purdue during Dawson’s stellar college career.
Once called “the most accurate passer in pro football,” Strahm immediately showed his worth as a team’s No. 1 quarterback, leading the AFL in completion percentage (61.0) and earning Player of the Year honors in 1962 while leading the Texans. League title.
After moving to Kansas City the following year, the team’s success continued under Dawson, a seven-time All-Star/Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro.
In 1966, he led the Chiefs to another AFL title, marking the first-ever trip to the so-called Super Bowl. Dawson played well (16-of-27, 211 yards), but the Chiefs lost 35-10 to Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers.
The Chiefs returned after three seasons to face the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Despite Joe Namath and the New York Jets upsetting the Baltimore Colts the previous year, the NFL was still seen as the top pick and the Vikings came in as double-digit favorites.
But the Kansas City defense dominated and Dawson played a generally strong game (12-of-17, 142 yards), including a 46-yard touchdown pass to Otis Taylor in the third quarter to seal a 23-7 victory.
Dawson was selected as the second-team quarterback on the AFL’s All-Time Team in 1970, behind Namath.
He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987 as a player and in 2012 as a broadcaster, following a TV and radio career that began as a sports anchor at Kansas City TV in 1966. I go to KMBC after practice to broadcast that night’s game report. Dawson became an analyst for games at NBC and longtime host of HBO’s “Inside the NFL.”
After a series of health problems, including prostate cancer and quadruple heart bypass surgery, Dawson retired from broadcasting in 2017 after 33 years as the Chiefs’ radio color analyst.
Dawson was a beloved figure in Kansas City, though he cut back on public appearances several years ago when he became ill. But he always has time for fans, whether it’s a photo or a signature, the latter in an iconic black-and-white photo from halftime of that first Super Bowl: the exhausted quarterback, white uniform, caked in mud, sitting on a lap. Chair with a cigarette in his mouth and a bottle of Fresca at his feet.
It captured a time and place perfectly. It perfectly captures a man who embodies poise and confidence.
Dawson was born on June 20, 1935, the ninth of 11 children to fill the home of James and Annie Dawson in the blue-collar manufacturing town of Alliance, Ohio. He was a three-sport athlete at Alliance High School, setting records in football and basketball, and parlaying his success on the gridiron into a scholarship offer from Purdue.
There, while playing defensive back and kicker, Dawson led the NCAA in passing as a sophomore and helped pull off a memorable upset of Notre Dame in the 1954 season. At the end of his college career, Dawson was selected by the Steelers in the first round of the 1957 draft, despite preferring ground-and-pound football for over 3,000 yards.
He eventually found success with the Chiefs, and when he hung up his helmet after the 1975 season, Dawson retired with 28,711 career passing yards and 239 touchdowns. All but 204 yards and two touchdowns came with the Chiefs franchise.
Dawson was married to his high school sweetheart, Jackie, from 1954 until her death in 1978, and they had two children together. His second wife, Linda, stayed by Dawson’s side even when he was forced to enter hospice care.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.