KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Len Dawson had never considered a career in broadcasting until then-Chiefs general manager Jack Steadman, trying to drum up some publicity for his recently moved franchise, talked a local TV station into doing a sports segment on the nightly news.
Steadman’s offer? His star quarterback as the anchor.
Just imagine the Patriots’ Tom Brady doing the nightly sports in Boston — in season, no less. But the stunt in 1966 dramatically altered the course of Dawson’s life, spawning a second career that later allowed him to join Dan Dierdorf and Frank Gifford as the only individuals in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as both players and broadcasters.
Now, after more than five decades in broadcasting, Dawson is hanging up the microphone.
The Chiefs and their radio network, where the 82-year-old Dawson has done color analysis since 1984, announced in a joint statement Tuesday night that the upcoming season would be his last on the air.
“Looking back on my career, I’ve been blessed for what I had the opportunity to do,” said Dawson, who has dealt with a number of health problems in recent years. “I could not have accomplished so much without my teammates and colleagues, and I’m grateful for each of them.”
Dawson’s playing career began in a similarly fortuitous way.
He had been a standout quarterback at Purdue when he joined the Pittsburgh Steelers as a first-round draft pick. But unable to beat out Bobby Layne for the starting job, Dawson was quickly traded to the Cleveland Browns, where he likewise struggled to beat out Milt Plum for the top job.
Dawson finally signed with the Dallas Texans in 1962, reuniting him with Hank Stram, who had been an assistant coach for the Boilermakers before becoming the AFL franchise’s head coach.
He promptly led the Texans to the AFL title and was the league’s MVP, and then moved with the club to Kansas City the following year. He led the rechristened Chiefs to two more AFL titles in 1966 and 1969, when he came back from a serious injury to beat Minnesota for their only Super Bowl title.
“Next to my father, few people have had a more lasting impact on the Kansas City Chiefs than Len Dawson,” said Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, whose father Lamar founded not only the franchise but the AFL.
“Over the course of his legendary career — first as a player and later as a broadcaster — Len has been a part of every major moment in franchise history,” Hunt said. “We sincerely appreciate his many contributions to Chiefs Kingdom since he arrived as a player in 1962.”
Dawson’s experience combined with his dashing good looks and folksy style made him a natural in the broadcast booth. His work in local TV caught the attention of others, and after hanging up the cleats in 1976, he turned his attention to television and radio on a full-time basis.
He continued to work in local TV for several decades, while also providing analysis for NBC’s game coverage from 1977-82. Dawson hosted HBO’s “Inside the NFL” from 1977-2001, when cable TV was still in its infancy, and has been the color analyst for the Chiefs’ radio broadcast team since 1985.
He went into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1987 and as a broadcaster in 2012.
“It’s been a true privilege and honor to have Len at the center of our broadcast team for the last 33 years,” said Dan Israel, the executive producer of the Chiefs’ radio network. “His contributions to not only this sport, but our industry, are incredibly profound.”