This month, our focus is on our “C” word, COMPOSURE, which includes: Being calm in the eye of the storm; Ability to slow the game down; Poise; Self-Control. All wonderful descriptions of Len Dawson, whom the Kansas City Chiefs announced Wednesday will be on the team’s radio broadcasts for one more season. With Wednesday’s announcement, our focus on the word COMPOSURE, and Dawson’s deserved nickname of “Lenny the Cool,” it seems fitting to feature him in this week’s post.
There aren’t many nicknames more fitting than the one the Dallas Texans and Kansas City Chiefs gave their quarterback: Lenny “The Cool” Dawson. Just talking with Dawson or watching him with a group of his former teammates, he has a coolness about him. But the moniker came from the way he conducted himself on the field.
See, it could be said that Lenny “The Cool” Dawson was destined to be a quarterback. That really seems to be the most logical reason to explain how he went from a hesitant 125-pound fifth-string quarterback during his sophomore year in high school — with more passion and ability to play baseball and basketball — to an NFL Hall of Famer. Well, destiny unless you believe in luck for the seventh son of a seventh son.
Len Dawson, who was from Alliance, Ohio, went to Purdue after being recruited by one of their relatively unknown assistant coaches named Hank Stram. While there, Dawson had an outstanding career, starting with his first varsity game, when he threw for 185 yards and four touchdowns in Purdue’s 31-0 win over Missouri. Dawson went on to throw for more than 3,000 yards, led the Big Ten in passing for three seasons, and led the Boilermakers to an upset over top-ranked Notre Dame in South Bend. Before the 1957 draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns (both in the NFL) were among the teams that contacted Dawson to see if he’d be interested in playing if they drafted him.
The Steelers beat the Browns in a coin flip to see which team would draft fifth. With the win of the coin toss, Pittsburgh picked Dawson. Walt Kiesling, Pittsburgh’s coach at the time of the draft, resigned before the season because of health reasons. When training camp opened, Buddy Parker had taken over.
“Buddy was going to do it his way, and Buddy was known as a coach who didn’t play rookies, particularly at quarterback,” said Dawson. “They made a trade to get Earl Morrall. So there’s Earl Morrall, me, and another rookie quarterback named Jack Kemp. They ended up releasing Kemp, so I was the understudy to Morrall.”
The next season, the Steelers traded Morrall for another quarterback and a Parker friend, Bobby Layne. Dawson remained a back up. Let’s put it this way: during his three years in Pittsburgh, Dawson played in just 19 games, starting one. He completed six of 17 passes for 96 yards and one touchdown.
In December 1959, the Steelers traded Dawson to Cleveland, where he spent two bench-warming seasons. “Five years into my pro career and I really hadn’t played much,” he said.
Then came Dawson’s break — a coaching convention in Pittsburgh, where he was living.
“Hank (Stram) was in town and we had breakfast one morning,” Dawson said. “He could see that I wasn’t very happy, not getting a chance to play. He said, ‘Well, if you ever get free give me a call. We’d love to have you with the Texans.’ Wanting to jump on that chance, I figured I had nothing to lose by asking Paul Brown for my release. He put me on waivers in June, when most the coaches for most teams were taking the month off for training camps. The other teams didn’t even know I was on waivers, and I cleared. That’s how I became a Dallas Texan.”
Dawson joined the Texans before the 1962 season, and both he and the organization flourished. He promptly led the Texans to the ’62 AFL championship, en route to becoming the league’s Player of the Year by The Sporting News. “Lenny the Cool” led the Chiefs to Super Bowls I and IV, winning the MVP award after the Chiefs’ victory over Minnesota.
More than 40 years after the end of his career, Dawson remains at or near the top of multiple categories for the Chiefs. Among Dawson’s superlatives are most seasons leading the league in passing (four — 1962, ’64, ’66, and ’68), most passing yards – career (28,507), most touchdown passes – career (237), most completions – career (2,115), most consecutive passes completed (15, tied with Bill Kenney), most seasons leading the league in completion percentage (eight, which is an NFL record), most consecutive seasons leading the league in completion percentage (six, also an NFL record), most seasons leading the league in touchdowns (four, which is an NFL record), most touchdown passes, season (30 in 1964), and most touchdown passes, game (six vs. Denver in November 1964).
Dawson, whose number 16 the Chiefs retired, finally was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
As good as Dawson was on the field, he’s been as good on the microphone. Starting in 1966, Dawson became a sports anchor and sports director on Kansas City’s ABC affiliate, KMBC-TV. Shortly after his playing career ended, he became an analyst on NBC’s football broadcasts and was a mainstay on HBO’s “Inside the NFL” (1977-2001). And, since he started in 1985, he’s been one of the top radio analysts in the NFL, serving as the color commentator on Chiefs broadcasts. In fact, Dawson’s work was recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012 when he received the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. He was third person — along with Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf — to be in the Hall of Fame as both a player and a broadcaster.
“I’m the seventh son of a seventh son, which is supposed to be good luck,” Dawson said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”
For us as fans, whether watching him march down the field against the Raiders or listening to him on the broadcasts, the honor has been all ours.