Hail to the Chief: The Greatest Football Announcer Ever?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because he remains a huge deal to the NFL.
By Jeff Fedotin
While watching Kansas City Chiefs games, my father’s friend Doug would impersonate quarterback Todd Blackledge, whom the Chiefs selected in 1983 over Dan Marino and Jim Kelly, fumbling after getting sacked. Steve Bono, who never won a playoff game but complained about the Kansas City cuisine, was another target. Chiefs quarterbacks were often a punch line, but Len Dawson was beyond reproach.
That’s because “Lenny the Cool” was and still is the franchise’s all-time leader in wins (93), touchdown passes (237) and passing yards (28,507). Dawson is the lone Chiefs quarterback to reach a Super Bowl, earning MVP honors while leading Kansas City to victory in Super Bowl IV. Sure, that was in 1970, but Dawson remained part of the team, serving as the Chiefs’ color analyst on radio broadcasts. This season, 2017, represents Dawson’s 33rd — and final one doing so. “He’s obviously a legend, an icon,” says Kansas City Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger.
Dawson is the longest-tenured sportscaster in Kansas City radio and television history.
So take one last listen to the legendary broadcaster who was neither a jock resting on his laurels as a player nor a Homer glorifying his former team. Many Chiefs fans still watch the national television broadcast on mute so they can hear the 82-year-old’s nuanced analysis via radio, where he has brought insight gleaned from his iconic career behind center. And he could be critical, Mellinger notes. When third-stringer Tyler Thigpen threw errant passes in 2008, Dawson expressed bewilderment. But he also covered the highs of the franchise, including the only three other quarterbacks — Steve DeBerg (1991), Joe Montana (1994) and Alex Smith (2016) — to win playoff games.
Dawson’s broadcasting career goes beyond his work with the Chiefs. Remarkably, he began working for the local ABC affiliate during the middle of his playing career in 1966, became the station’s first sports anchor and was a nightly presence until 2009. He joined the Chiefs Radio Network in 1984 and is the longest tenured sportscaster in Kansas City radio and television history.
But I still miss watching him wax nostalgic on HBO’s Inside the NFL, cable television’s longest-running series and a precursor to all modern NFL highlight shows. Dawson co-hosted it for 24 years and also spent six years as a national NFL game analyst for NBC. As a result, Dawson received the Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award in 2012, joining Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf as the only people to be inducted as both NFL players and broadcasters.
Good fortune has long accompanied the seventh son of a seventh son. Possessing an “it” factor that led to his cool nickname, he was memorably photographed smoking a cigarette and drinking a Fresca during the halftime of Super Bowl I. And Alex Smith even once wore a T-shirt of Dawson to a press conference as an homage.
Here's Len Dawson smoking a cigarette and drinking a Fresca *during halftime* of Super Bowl I. pic.twitter.com/ldNF4bbR3z
— Bryan Armen Graham (@BryanAGraham) January 29, 2014
The Pitch, a local alternative publication, featured a 2016 column saying Dawson had slipped mentally and should retire. Though Mellinger works in the press box, preventing him from listening to the Chiefs’ broadcasts, he says Dawson remains sharp, especially for his age. “He may be a little bit slower,” Mellinger says. “But it’s not a huge thing.”
Dawson remains a huge deal to the NFL and Kansas City. The Chiefs have retired Dawson’s No. 16 jersey. Appreciate him this season before he retires from the broadcast booth as well.
- Jeff Fedotin, OZY Author Contact Jeff Fedotin