When I first met, Len Dawson I was an impressionable kid. Living between legendary Coach, Hank Stram and Hall of Fame Linebacker, Bobby Bell in my Prairie Village, Kansas neighborhood was already pretty special.
But there was something different about the man that wore #16 for the Kansas City Chiefs. Lenny ‘The Cool’ as my father used to say to me over and over again, was an icon in my life.
On the field, the man had ice in his veins. I don’t have enough digits to remember the times in goal line situations, inside the two yard-line, the man would take a delay of game penalty on third down– just to get more field to operate his quick strike passing game.
In the first Super Bowl, Dawson did everything he could for 30 minutes to show the inferior AFC could compete with the Green Bay Packers NFC machine. Three years later, Dawson made mincemeat of the Minnesota Vikings and guided the Chiefs to their only Super Bowl victory.
Since his retirement he’s been a broadcasting legend working with NBC Sports and HBO's Inside the NFL before ultimately taking his rightful place on the Chiefs radio broadcasts. At 80 years old, the man still delivers pinpoint commentary and hasn’t lost a step in accurately describing the action on the field to the Chiefs Kingdom.
For me though, it was the times away from the game that gave me a better sense of the man. Even to this day, every time I see Len, I get chills and of course another AFC story. I can hear them over and over again because they never get old.
However, it was my youth that solidified the bond we share today. Of all the greats that have played for this franchise, Len Dawson is one of the most respected football players I’ve ever encountered in my life away from the game.
From wearing my Len Dawson jersey everywhere I went about town or when I slept at night. However the highlight for me as a young kid were hanging out with his family at their suburban home.
Len Dawson was the coolest cat I knew, and the fact he had a football shaped pool in his backyard, made it even sweeter whenever our families had social gatherings.
Add that with the fact, he had a perfectly placed roof overhang that was a perfect launching vehicle to fly into his pool, remains one of my youth highlights. Of course, Len didn’t like it when we did it, but I was following orders of my older brother and Len’s son – who chickened me to do it. I mean I had to do it!
The Kansas City Chiefs are in my blood. As a seasoned fan in my fifties, I’ve seen every decade of football this franchise has put on the field. Beyond the X’s and O’s I’ve come to know as a writer, it was those early years that shaped my passion for the team.
The fact, that I was able to walk among the giants as a child, just makes it even sweeter today. For me as an impressionable kid, there wasn’t anyone more special to me than Len Dawson.
We all have our reasons and identifiers that ultimately make us sports fans. The ability to connect with sports heroes from a distance is pretty cool. However, when we get to know our heroes away from the game, and realize their just real people, it absorbs you even deeper into the roots of the team you root for every Sunday.
When I see Len Dawson today I’m reminded of some of the best parts of my youth. On the field, I can remember almost every snap I saw the man play Quarterback in a Chiefs uniform. Off the field, I continue to marvel at his wit, intelligence and the demeanor he strides through the Chiefs nation.
The man exhumes class and he’s been a terrific ambassador for the Chiefs. But for my generation, he was a true role model who has shaped decades of fans, like me, that extend beyond what he did on the field.
Even if he hadn’t performed his magic in Super Bowl IV, it would have made no difference to me or changed what I feel about him back then or today. Because to this day, I can call Len Dawson my friend – and there is no Lombardi Trophy that can top that.
Happy Birthday Len!!!
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