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A Legend Passes: Remembering Len Dawson

Take a moment to remember “Lenny the Cool”

Heroes don't age. So it was sobering to be reminded that Len Dawson, who died on Wednesday, was 87 years old.

Through the years, as with a generation of Chiefs fans, Dawson occupied a sacred perch in our heads. Why those memories remained intensely vivid when so many others failed has largely to do with the increasing place sports has in a community and, in the case of the Chiefs, in a region.

Dawson and the team's arrival in Kansas City in 1963 showed that it could truly be a major city with a real professional sports franchise. It was hard to think of Charlie Finley's Kansas City A's as one.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson (16) scrambles to avoid an oncoming Baltimore Colts' defenseman.

Lenny came to town fresh off an MVP season, his team from an AFL championship. Most people do not know that Dawson did not live in Dallas from where he came. His family was still in Pittsburgh who had drafted him and where he had played for three years (he played two more in Cleveland before being released), and he ended up in Dallas and the American Football League and playing for Hank Stram, the man who had coached him in college at Purdue.

The thing is Dawson once here, never left, even after he retired. If you missed him on KMBC- TV's evening sports you could catch him for 25 years as host of HBO's groundbreaking Inside the NFL, or listen to his analysis of Chiefs games on the radio. Even as age began to catch up to him, he was succinct in his commentary and eye-opening in his analysis of what was taking place on the field.

Len Dawson interviews Kansas City Chiefs kick returner Dante Hall (82) after a 2003 NFL game.

A number of years ago, someone was taking a survey of the greatest sports figures in Kansas City history. To no surprise, and acting as the franchise's historian, I put Lenny first among a number of obvious greats to include baseball's George Brett and golf's Tom Watson. Any of these men would legitimately rank as number one.

But I picked Len for the reason that he was first for a city whose status was raised as a result of he and his team coming here. He took his team to two Super Bowls, was MVP of a winning one and directed three teams to championships during his 19-year professional football career, and was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Perhaps one day, Patrick Mahomes will better those achievements and take his place as the greatest of them all. That day remains to be seen, so in the meantime, let us all take time to remember Len Dawson, who he was, and what he did for this city.

A photo tribute to legendary Chiefs QB Len Dawson