One year ago today, I lost my friend and childhood hero the great Len Dawson. In my life, there will never be an athlete or sports personality to ever wear a Kansas City Chiefs uniform that was bigger in my life than this man. He set the time for my Chiefs fandom, and he never disappointed anyone who knew him. He was larger than life in every facet of his soul. His impact on my life will forever be with me.
Lenny ‘The Cool’ Dawson was a humble man who for nearly fifty years between 1969 and 2019 carried the burden of being the only quarterback in the history of the Kansas City Chiefs to win a Super Bowl. When Patrick Mahomes ended five decades of Super Bowl pain for our beloved football team, no one person was happier to see that streak end than Len Dawson.
For decades, Len used to tell me stories about the old AFL, he’d laugh about some of the things Hank Stram said and did, but he was always on point about his legacy, he didn’t want to carry the Super Bowl torch any longer. It was time for his team to shake the curse and get another Lombardi Trophy for the city he called home since 1963.
The first time I met Len Dawson I was roughly eight years old. He was doing a Holiday reading at KMBC TV-9, that aired live. As he read the tale of the origin of Santa Claus, I sat next to him and just remembered being in awe of the man. Not only was he the starting quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, and even though I didn’t remember a single word he spoke on that broadcast, I was sitting next to the man who would forever be my childhood hero who was a Super Bowl Champion.
Now keep in mind the attention span of a kid that age was limited. I remember the reading took forever, and initially my father, who was close friends with Lenny, insisted that I go, but little did he know, I was happy to do it. When the Chiefs started the famed Huddle Club for kids, Lenny would often be at the center of some of the events.
As a child, our families shared some afternoons and evenings together. In one instance, we went to the Dawson house in the middle of summer when I was perhaps ten years old. I was chatting with Len in his kitchen while my brother and Lenny Junior were set to swim in his football-shaped pool.
Suddenly during our conversation, we looked out the kitchen window and saw two boys flying off the roof, followed by two big splashes. You see Len’s pool was close to an overhang on the second floor of his house. So, the flight into the pool was dangerous but in retrospect, it didn’t require much effort, other than to avoid slipping on the roof.
After the air raid into the pool, Len looked at me in silence, and I swear I thought he was going to start yelling at the boys because of the danger of the jump. Instead, with a calm tone, and a slight laugh, he simply stated, ‘Boys will be Boys’. Of all the times we spent together, that remains one of my favorite moments.
Through the years, we spoke often, I’d ask more questions, and hear more stories and I loved every one of them. In fact, Len even agreed to be a spokesperson for a sports website, that I was putting together back in the 1990’s.
Through the years, I saw Len from time to time, we always shared a laugh and a few stories. However, when I became a reporter covering the Chiefs for Warpaint Illustrated, that’s when our friendship began again.
You see as a kid hanging with your idol was beyond awesome. As an adult working with your Idol, was ten times the joy. Len was a gym rat of sorts. He was always around the facility, always watching practice, but he also engaged with everyone in the building – especially on game days. It didn’t matter if you were at the front desk, working an hourly wage at the stadium, in the media, a coach, or a player, he always made sure to say hello and engage you in a way that you, not he, were the most important part of the conversation.
Throughout my tenure covering the Chiefs, we had many conversations about life and football, but one struck me as significant.
As I mentioned, Len was happy to have the 50-year Super Bowl streak come to an end. He told me carrying the burden of being the only Chiefs quarterback to be a Super Bowl MVP, was at times overwhelming. After all, my generation felt the same way about Len, that I did. Further, he lived that gap just as hard and painful as we did.
In retrospect, he was tired of being the spokesperson for the Super Bowl IV team. It was time for them to find someone else. Fortunately, they did when Patrick Mahomes arrived, and now he has two rings of his own.
I could recite so many conversations with him, that I could take all day. After his playing days, he went full speed into broadcasting and radio. He launched Inside the NFL, and for decades brought a flair for the game that was must-see TV for every NFL fan and player.
Though he spent time at NBC as a color commentator, he would return to the Chiefs broadcast booth until he retired a few years ago. Len always saw the game from a player’s perspective. At times, he was critical in his remarks but never cruel. He was constructive and passionate in those remarks. For those who could not watch the game on TV, we all heard what he saw on the field. He did it with style on the air and never failed to show off his amazing sense of humor.
Today as I reflect on the one-year anniversary of his passing, I’m not sad. I’m surrounded by so many memories together, and a few signed pieces of memorabilia (including my favorite below) that remind me of the days when life was simple, and being a Huddle Club kid and Kansas City Chiefs fan was about the greatest thing ever.
The fact, that I shared that with Len Dawson for five decades, made it even more special and amazing.