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The death of Len Dawson touched everyone in the NFL world, but it had a particular impact on Kansas City Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt, given how close he and his family were to the legendary quarterback.
Dawson joined the Dallas Texans of the American Football League in 1962 and by 1963, the team had moved to Kansas City and renamed the Chiefs. Lamar Hunt, Clark’s father and whom the AFC Championship trophy would be named for, owned the team at the time.
Dawson played for the organization from 1962 to 1975 and helped the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl title in Super Bowl IV against the Minnesota Vikings during the 1969 season.
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On Wednesday, Hunt opened up about Dawson and the impact the quarterback had on his life. He described the Hall of Famer as his “first sports hero” and offered his condolences to the Dawson family.
“The Chiefs and the city of Kansas City have truly lost an icon. Len Dawson has been associated with the Chiefs organization for over 60 years and his impact both on and off the field will be remembered by generations of pro football fans,” Hunt said. . “Len was my first sports hero, and he remains somebody I admired and respected his entire life. His impact on the Kansas City Chiefs and everyone who has ever worked for the organization cannot be overstated. With that, I’m happy to open it up to questions.”
Hunt said the notion of Dawson being his “first sports hero” never really left him.
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“I think it was, to a large degree, a coincidence of my age and when Len was having so much success on the field for the Chiefs he was really synonymous with those early Texans and Chiefs teams that won three AFL Championships and Super Bowl IV So it was pretty easy for a six or seven-year-old kid to look up to Len and say ‘hey, that’s one of my heroes.’ You’re exactly right; that feeling really stayed with me my entire life,” Hunt explained.
“I think back to 10 or 11 years ago, shortly after I’d taken over leadership of the Chiefs, sitting down and doing and interview with him and just how surreal that was. I was doing an interview about my leadership of the Chiefs with somebody I literally idolized as a kid. So, it did stay with me, and I think that was true (for) really everybody that came to work for the Chiefs. I remember Scott Pioli telling me he had a very similar experience when he did his first interview with Len and just how awestruck he was to be doing an interview with a Pro Football Hall of Famer and somebody who had accomplished so much off the field as well as on.”
Hunt said that because Dawson was one of the first celebrities in Kansas City, and he was the first to win a Super Bowl for the organization, it gave the fan base a connection with him.
“He’s synonymous with the success of the early Chiefs organization and those early teams that really helped establish the Chiefs and the American Football League. But I think when you step back and think about him in terms of Kansas City, I think he’s synonymous with somebody who cared about the community and was really focused on finding ways to give back,” Hunt added.
Under head coach Hank Stram, Dawson won the passing title four times and was a league All-Star six times. He led the team to the Super Bowl in 1966, only to lose to the Green Bay Packers. Dawson led the Chiefs to Super Bowl IV in 1969 and beat the Minnesota Vikings for the title. He was named Super Bowl IV MVP.
Dawson played for the Chiefs until he was 40 years old.
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In 211 career games between his time in the NFL and AFL, Dawson had 28,711 passing yards and 239 touchdowns. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.