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Len Dawson, Who Took Kansas City to a Championship, Dies at 87


Len Dawson, the Hall of Fame quarterback who spent his first five pro football seasons as a seldom-used backup but went on to take Kansas City to its first Super Bowl championship, died on Wednesday. He was 87.

His death was announced by his family in a press release. Dawson had recently entered hospice care on the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

Dawson, who played professionally for 19 seasons, 13 of them in Kansas City, was often called Lenny the Cool. A slender 6 foot 1 and 190 kilos, on the smallish side even for his era, he played with little visible emotion. But he was a pinpoint passer who seemed impervious to pressure and a six-time All-Star within the old American Football League.

Hank Stram, the Kansas City Chiefs’ longtime coach, who gave Dawson a likelihood to be a starter within the A.F.L. after his unhappy time with the N.F.L.’s Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, once called him “essentially the most accurate passer in pro football.”

Dawson was a quiet type who led by example. “I’ve never heard him raise his voice,” the Kansas City guard Ed Budde once said. “Once you do something incorrect, he just gives you that look and you recognize you had higher shape up.”

He was best remembered for getting back from a serious knee injury to take the Chiefs to a shocking 23-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV in January 1970 — the team’s only Super Bowl championship until 2020.

As that game neared, Dawson had faced pressure to prove he was in prime shape after missing five midseason games due to his bad knee. But one other burden shadowed him as well.

NBC had reported that the federal authorities wanted Dawson, Joe Namath of the Jets and a number of other other pro football players to seem before a federal grand jury in reference to a string of Recent Yr’s Day arrests of reputed gamblers in a nationwide sports betting ring. The Justice Department didn’t confirm the report, but Dawson, while denying any connection to gambling, told reporters that he had a “casual acquaintanceship” with certainly one of the lads who had been arrested.

Seemingly unfazed by the headlines, Dawson closed out the Super Bowl scoring by combining with receiver Otis Taylor on a 46-yard third-quarter touchdown play within the face of a blitz. He was named the sport’s most respected player and received a congratulatory phone call from President Richard M. Nixon. The players cited within the NBC report were never accused of wrongdoing.

Namath had taken the Jets of the A.F.L. to a shocking 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts within the 1969 Super Bowl. That upset was a prelude to the Chiefs’ championship victory, which cemented the league’s credibility preceding the completion of the A.F.L.-N.F.L. merger.

“That was huge for us,” Dawson told The Times-Picayune of Recent Orleans long afterward. “We were the not-ready-for-prime-time guys from the A.F.L., and we made it two in a row.”

Leonard Ray Dawson was born on June 25, 1935, in Alliance, Ohio, the ninth of 11 children of James and Annie Dawson. His father worked for a machine company.

He became a star quarterback for Purdue when Stram was an assistant coach with the Boilermakers, then was chosen by the Steelers in the primary round of the 1957 N.F.L. draft. But he was a backup in his three seasons with them and two seasons with the Cleveland Browns.

He considered quitting football after the 1961 season, but Stram — who had grow to be the pinnacle coach of the Dallas Texans, certainly one of the A.F.L.’s eight original teams — wanted him. “He mainly said, ‘When you ever get free, let me know. I’d like to have you ever on my team,’” Dawson once told The Springfield News-Leader of Missouri. Dawson asked the Browns to place him on waivers, and the Texans claimed him.

Dawson took the Texans to their first A.F.L. championship in 1962, the league’s third season, with a 20-17 victory over the Houston Oilers in double extra time. He was named the league’s player of the yr. Lamar Hunt, the Texans’ owner, moved the team to Kansas City for the 1963 season, renaming it the Chiefs, and Dawson took the team to an A.F.L. title in 1966, though they lost to the Green Bay Packers, 35-10, in the primary Super Bowl.

“You’d never have heard of my name if it hadn’t been for Lamar Hunt hiring Hank Stram,” Dawson once told The Kansas City Star.

Dawson, who retired after the 1975 season, threw for 239 profession touchdowns and 28,711 yards. He led the A.F.L. in touchdown passes 4 times and in passing completion percentage six times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987.

Survivors include his second wife, Linda. He had two children, Lisa Anne and Len Jr., together with his first wife, Jackie, who died in 1978. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

Dawson was a longtime radio analyst for Kansas City games and a television broadcaster for NBC and HBO. The Hall of Fame presented him with its Pete Rozelle Radio-Television award in 2012.

He looked back wryly on the beginning of his broadcasting profession, when he reported on sports for KMBC television and radio in Kansas City within the evenings while he was still playing.

“The Chiefs beneficial me,” he once said. “They felt in the event that they had certainly one of their people on the sports at 10, there could be one station not ripping the football team.”

Dawson was a signature figure in team’s history. “We began calling him the Governor,” his former teammate Emmitt Thomas told The Star in 2013. “To this present day, I call him Governor. He was the guy here in Kansas City.”

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