Remembering Chiefs legend Len Dawson, who had a stint with Browns

Len Dawson. Mandatory Credit: Rod Hanna-USA TODAY Sports
Len Dawson. Mandatory Credit: Rod Hanna-USA TODAY Sports /

Although Len Dawson was famous as the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, he prepped under Paul Brown and the Cleveland Browns.

Sadly, the news broke on Wednesday that legendary NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson passed away at the age of 87. Although he’s best known for his run with the Kansas City Chiefs, he was also a former member of the Cleveland Browns.

He will be forever remembered as the leader of the high-powered Kansas City offense that appeared in Super Bowl I and lost to the Green Bay Packers, but returned in Super Bowl IV after the 1969 season and upset the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings, the “Purple People Eaters,” believed to have been the greatest defense of all-time up to that point.

Cleveland fans may be interested to learn that he was actually a member of the Browns prior to jumping to the rival American Football League, which had formed in 1960. Paul Brown liked Dawson coming out of college in 1957, but the Steelers drafted him. Being the Steelers, they had no idea what they had.

In 1960, Brown swung a trade for Dawson, but he was in a car accident just before training camp, and Milt Plum became the starter. Minor arm issues limited his effectiveness in 1961, though he did win his only start for the Browns that year.

Ultimately, Frank Ryan became the quarterback and led the team to its last NFL Championship in 1964, so it wasn’t necessarily a horrible decision that they let Dawson have the opportunity to further his career in the AFL.

Dawson had been coached by Hank Stram at Purdue, and Stram was his coach for the Chiefs (they were the Dallas Texans in 1961 before moving to Kansas City). Stram and his brainy quarterback were able to install the “Offense of the Future” as Stram billed it, and promised that Super Bowl IV would be a contest of the “Offense of the Future” versus the “Offense of the Past.”

There’s a lot of truth to that. The Lombardi era was based on the theory that superior execution was the key to winning, and that football didn’t need to be fancy.

Super Bowl III had been the upset of the century, what with Joe Namath “guaranteeing” victory. The Jets won 16-7, and perhaps it felt a little flukey with Baltimore misfiring on offense. However, Super Bowl IV left no doubt. Kansas City took Minnesota’s best-in-history defense behind the tool shed and whipped their butts. Dawson was ruthlessly efficient on 12-of-17, for 142 yards, a touchdown to halfback Mike Garrett, and one interception.

Hilariously, Stram was miked for sound during the game and spewed one-liners the entire game, much to the merriment of Vikings haters everywhere. Your Browns had been destroyed 51-3 during the regular season and 27-7 in the NFL Championship game, so there was no love for the Vikings in our hearts during the Super Bowl.

Dawson was a seven-time Pro Bowler and played until age 40, a remarkable accomplishment in an era where defenses were allowed to mangle quarterbacks to a much greater extent than they are today. He won’t be remembered as a Cleveland Brown, but his apprenticeship in Cleveland is an important footnote in the history of a great player.

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