Len Dawson, a Hall of Fame quarterback who led the Kansas City Chiefs to the franchise’s first Super Bowl win, has passed away. He was 87 years old.
The Dawson family released a statement to KMBC, where Dawson became sports director in 1966 (while he was still playing). Dawson spent 40-plus years at the station, before stepping away from the anchor desk in 2009.
“With wife Linda at his side, it is with much sadness that we inform you of the passing of our beloved Len Dawson. He was a wonderful husband, father, brother and friend. Len was always grateful and many times overwhelmed by the countless bonds he made during his football and broadcast careers. He loved Kansas City and no matter where his travels took him, he could not wait to return home.
“Linda wants to acknowledge and thank the wonderful team of doctors, nurses and support staff at KU Med who showed tremendous amounts of love and compassion for Len.”
Pro Football Hall of Fame President Jim Porter released a statement on Dawson’s passing. Dawson grew up in Alliance, Ohio, just 18 miles outside of Canton.
“Len grew up only a few miles from where the Pro Football Hall of Fame was later built, and fans in the area have always taken a special pride in seeing one of the greats from this region enshrined in Canton. Fans connected with Len’s story of perseverance, appreciating how he gave the game one more try after five nondescript seasons when many others would have quit.
“The American Football League, and Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram, gave Len a true opportunity, and he made the most of it, building the Chiefs into a Super Bowl contender, and eventually a world champion.
“Our thoughts and prayers extend to his wife, Linda, and to all of Len’s family and friends in Kansas City and in Alliance, Ohio.”
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987, Dawson made just two starts during his first five seasons in the NFL. He got his break in 1962 when he joined the Dallas Texans, an AFL club in its third year of existence. Dawson led the Texans to an AFL title that season after leading the league in completion percentage and touchdown passes.
One of pro football’s best quarterbacks during the 1960s, Dawson led the AFL in completion percentage seven times over an eight-year span. He also paced the league in touchdown passes four times over a five-year period. Dawson’s success translated to wins for Kansas City, who moved cities after the 1962 season. The Chiefs captured the AFL title in 1966 while punching their ticket to the first Super Bowl. Dawson threw a first half touchdown pass, but the Chiefs ultimately fell to Vince Lombardi’s Packers, who won five NFL titles during the decade. A picture taken of Dawson smoking a cigarette at halftime became one of the most iconic images in pro football history.
Three years later, the Chiefs made it back to the Super Bowl after defeating the previous two AFL champions — the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders — in the playoffs. Kansas City would face the heavily favored Vikings in the final game played before the AFL-NFL merger. Despite the Vikings’ formidable defense and a muddy playing field, Dawson completed nearly 71% of his passes while throwing the game-clinching touchdown pass to Otis Taylor, who caught Dawson’s quick pass and ran 40 yards to pay dirt. Dawson won MVP honors following Kansas City’s 23-7 victory.
Dawson continued to play at an elite level following the merger. He was named to his seventh Pro Bowl in 1971 while helping lead the Chiefs to a division title. On Christmas Day, 1971, he quarterbacked in the longest game in NFL history, as Kansas City fell to Don Shula’s Dolphins in a divisional round playoff game that lasted nearly 83 minutes.
In 1975, the 40-year-old Dawson led the NFL in completion percentage in what was his final season. During his 14 years with the Chiefs’ organization, Dawson went 98-59-3 as a starting quarterback. Dawson was part of a star-studded Chiefs team that also featured Taylor, running back Mike Garrett, offensive linemen Jim Tyrer and Ed Budde, Hall of Famers Curley Culp, Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier, Emmitt Thomas, and kicker Jean Stenerud. The Chiefs were also led by Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram and Hall of Fame owner Lamar Hunt.
“My family and I are heartbroken. Len Dawson is synonymous with the Kansas City Chiefs. Len embraced and came to embody Kansas City and the people that call it home. You would be hard-pressed to find a player who had a bigger impact in shaping the organization as we know it today than Len Dawson did,” said Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt in a statement. “I admired Len my entire life – first as a Hall of Fame player on the field, and later as he transitioned into a successful broadcasting career.
“Throughout his remarkable career, Len made it a priority to give back to the community that he loved. The franchise has lost a true legend. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Linda and his family.”
A trailblazer off the gridiron as one of the first player-broadcasters, Dawson enjoyed a lengthy broadcasting career that included a 24-year run as the host of HBO’s “Inside the NFL.” Dawson also served as the Chiefs’ radio color analyst from 1985-2017. He received the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award for his long-time contributions as a sports broadcaster in 2012.
“Looking back on my career, I’ve been blessed for what I had the opportunity to do,” Dawson said in 2017.