Len Dawson, who was one of the greatest quarterbacks of his era and then went on to a long and successful career as a broadcaster, has died at the age of 87.
An All-State football and basketball player at Alliance High School in Ohio, Dawson turned down a scholarship offer at Ohio State to play in a more pass-friendly offense at Purdue, where he was recruited by assistant coach Hank Stram, who later became his head coach with the Chiefs. Dawson led the Big Ten in passing yards during all three of his seasons at Purdue, and on the strength of that performance, he went to the Steelers with the fifth overall pick in the 1957 NFL draft.
But in three years with the Steelers, Dawson barely played, and they ended up trading him to the Browns — who also barely played him, for two more seasons. Through five NFL seasons, Dawson’s career looked like it was going nowhere.
In 1962, however, Dawson’s fortunes changed: Stram had become the head coach of the American Football League’s Dallas Texans (who would move to Kansas City and change their name to the Chiefs the next year), and he brought Dawson in to be his quarterback. Dawson thrived in the AFL, leading that league in touchdown passes, completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating in his first season, while the Texans won the AFL championship.
Dawson would continue to lead an outstanding offense with the Chiefs for more than a decade, even leading the NFL in completion percentage in his final season, 1975, at the age of 40. He retired as one of the most prolific passers in pro football history.
But while Dawson retired from playing, he wasn’t nearly done with pro football. He had actually become the sports director at KMBC-TV in Kansas City while he was still an active player, and he worked for that station for decades. In 1977 he was hired by the upstart cable channel HBO to host Inside the NFL, and he continued to host it through 2001. He also worked as an analyst on NBC, and for many years on the Chiefs’ radio broadcasts.
Dawson was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1987 and received the Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award in 2012. Dawson started for the Chiefs in Super Bowl I, and he was the MVP of Super Bowl IV.