Len Dawson, Hall of Fame quarterback and broadcaster, dies at 87

Super Bowl I - Kansas City Chiefs vs Green Bay Packers - January 15, 1967
Getty Images

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.

59 responses to “Len Dawson, Hall of Fame quarterback and broadcaster, dies at 87

  1. Him and Nick B. did the best NFL show ever. Could not wait to watch each week. Len, you were a class act.

  2. RIP Len Dawson, I enjoyed listening to you call games back in the 80s (aka the best decade ever)

  3. The choice not to use the photo of Lenny sitting on the sidelines during a game hitting a smoke like it was life itself with a Fresca at his feet… *SMH*

    I will always lament that my Steelers didn’t know what to do with him, but being a NE Ohio boy, I am glad that he got a chance to show his talent. And what a talent.

    I loved him on “Inside the NFL” too. Insightful and fun. He will be missed.

  4. Thanks for your contributions, Mr. Dawson. I always enjoyed listening to your broadcasts. May you rest in peace.

  5. RIP to a great player and broadcaster. As an 9 year old kid I started watching Inside the NFL with him and Nick Buoniconti. Hope they are joking around in Heaven. RIP

  6. Len Dawson put Kansas City on the map as far as professional football was concerned. Great quarterback, a great leader and tough as hell. Lived a charmed life as a 7th son of a 7th son. RIP Lenny.

  7. Rip. I really can’t believe it’s been since 2001 when he was on Inside the NFL. Seems like a few years ago. We are all getting old…

  8. RIP, I remember him smoking on the sideline of a game. Times were definitely different.

  9. Thanks for the memories Lenny, you were singularly responsible for my love of the Chiefs!!!

  10. RIP
    to an announcer who actually talked about the game that was going on!

    They let go Unitas & Dawson…man the pre-1969 Steelers were brutal talent evaluators…

  11. I’m of the generation that grew up with Len Dawson and Nick Buoniconti on HBO’s inside the NFL in the 90’s…. Show was must see TV with John Facenda and Harry Kalas doing voice over with the classic NFL Films music. Sadly we’ve lost all of them now, and the show barely exists on another channel today. RIP Len.. you will be missed

  12. Len Dawson’s comments as a radio broadcaster were manna from heaven–you always learned something by listening to him. He was the seventh son of a seventh son..the variety of talents he displayed in his lifetime lend heft to that Biblical measurement. RIP…and thank you.

  13. Kudos to all the readers and their tributes to Mr. Dawson. Only two thumbs down in all the comments. Reflects the class act (and great, tough QB and man) that was Len Dawson

  14. Lenny was first drafted the year I was born. So when you’re a kid growing up in the 60s just started to watch football you really don’t know what’s going on. Despite that Len stood out as a pretty good guy and a guy you’d want on your team. RIP

  15. Lenny was an old time QB by today’s standards…but back then he was a cutting-edge kind of player.

    He lived a full life and through it all remained classy and professional. He deserved and earned the right to be in the Hall of fame.

    He really added something to the new “upstart league”

    May those that he leaves behind lean on the memories they shared together as they move forward without him.

    See ya on the other side Chief

  16. Personally I think the cigarette and Fresca at halftime of the super bowl photo is one of the all time great visuals of days gone by. It was a different time, that’s all. RIP Lenny the Cool from a very young fan that was born long after you played.

  17. #16 is a Legend – can not remember when Lenny the Cool was not “Mr.Kansas City” – he put the city on the map back in the 60’s….fantastic player during a very exciting time in the NFL, Great commentator,(loved listening to him on the radio as a color guy and analyst during Chiefs games for years and he knew of what he spoke. More importantly for me, from the few times I was lucky enough to meet and speak with him, he was a wonderfully warm and approachable person. He once took the time to talk to me for 45 minutes after meeting him in a public setting (he did not know me at all, just knew I was a fan) We talked on the subject of Parkinson’s disease as it came up my father (also a really huge fan) had it and he wanted to know more about it as he shared with me that his friend and former team mate Otis Taylor was also suffering from it…just a great, soft spoken and sincere man who will be missed by many people across the nation but also by a city as a whole that he made his home…..Cool Runnings Lenny – Peace be your Journey

  18. Len Dawson had the “Moving Pocket” and a pair of “mini-backs” and their huddle was the coolest … Dawson on one knee facing the defense and the offense standing in lines facing Dawson.

  19. Crushing to hear as he is one of my absolute favorites. Rest In Peace Lenny……………………

  20. A Hall of Fame football play. A Hall of Fame man, husband, and father. May God bless Len Dawson and his family.

  21. My favorite Len moments came after they added Marino to “Inside the NFL”.

    Len would find ways to make sure he and Nick would show off their SB rings, or reference what it took to “get one of these”.

    I wonder if thats what fueled Marinos tirades? 😀

  22. RIP Lenny. You were one of my favorite all time players and most respected. Obviously a great analyst, too. Played in the most exciting league ever. The old AFL. Helped cause the NFL-AFL merger. The Hunts own the team, but Len Dawson is the Chief. Always will be.

  23. Loved watching HBO inside the NFL with Len Dawson & Nick Buoniconti…its a joke now with all these dudes on set that can give a third of the info you got from Lenny & Nick RIP!

  24. recently lost the mad Bomber Daryl Lamonica and now Dawson .. both of them started out buried on the bench of different teams and along with Namath were the faces of the wide open offences of the AFL.He was terrific .RIP

  25. As fun as it was watching the Raiders and Jets in that era, it was the strength of the Chiefs that carried the AFL at the end and into the merger. The Chiefs were clearly better than Minnesota in Super Bowl IV. The Chiefs decisive win reinforced that the Jets victory a year earlier was for real and that the AFL was at least equal to the NFL in 1970.

  26. I’ll miss him greatly. I never got the chance to see him play, but I loved watching him on “Inside the NFL” every Saturday morning as a child. Afterwards I’d play football all day long on a vacant lot on the corner. One family had four boys and another had three so when we got all the kids together it was a lot of fun.

  27. You may be cool, but you’ll never be Len Dawson smoking a cigarette and having a beer during halftime of the Super Bowl cool. RIP Legend

  28. When Dawson began doing “Inside The NFL” on HBO, it was practically the only thing on HBO that was worth watching.
    They had no decent programming at all. They had maybe 5 or 6 movies that they showed repeatedly, and that was it.
    As far as I was concerned, that was HIS show.

  29. Thank you Mr Dawson, I enjoyed watching one of the best quarterbacks Plat in my Era. Thank you for the Championship I remember it well. Condolences to your family. Condolences to the Chiefs organization. We all lost a beautiful person today.I hope there is a moment of silence for this legend. You will be greatly missed.

  30. I’m old enough to remember when defenders could knock the snot out of QBs. Len was tough as nails, and a great QB.

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