Len Dawson never tried to separate his broadcast career from his playing career.
And no one asked him too, either.
Dawson went to work as a sports anchor while still completing his career as quarterback of the Chiefs, and Friday night in Canton, Ohio, he’ll receive the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 25 years after he was inducted into the shrine as a player.
Dawson, 77, will join Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf as the only members of the Hall of Fame as players and as recipients of the Rozelle Award, which recognizes “longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football.”
Dawson’s work as a broadcaster spans local television as the longtime sports anchor on KMBC, Channel 9; national television as an NFL game analyst for NBC Sports for six years; cable television as a co-host for 24 years on HBO’s ground-breaking “Inside the NFL”; and radio as analyst for Chiefs broadcasts since 1984.
“The fact I was in the huddle for an awful lot of years, so I know what goes on in the huddle,” Dawson said of what he tries to convey to audiences. “Also, I was the one who was calling the plays in those days. It wasn’t coming in through the helmet from somebody else talking to me.”
As a player, Dawson was doing four radio shows a day when he became Channel 9’s first sports anchor in 1966, the year he led Chiefs to Super Bowl I and three years before he was MVP in Kansas City’s upset of Minnesota in Super Bowl IV.
“When Channel 9 had just 15 minutes of news at 10 o’clock, there were just three stations, and the NBC affiliate and The Tonight Show was very, strong, so the Channel 9 general manager said, ‘Let’s go to 30 minutes. We’re last anyway,’ ” Dawson recalled. “They needed a weather person and a sports person, and (then-Chiefs general manager) Jack Steadman recommended me.
“They were thinking about selling tickets, and if they had their quarterback on the news at 10 at night, there’s not going to be bad things said about the team, otherwise I wouldn’t make it to the next game.”
Dawson would practice in the afternoon, interview his teammates while still in pads, race to the studio to do the 6 p.m. sports report, have dinner with his family and return to the station for the 10 p.m. news.
“It was just an opportunity,” Dawson said. “If I had made millions of dollars like these guys today, I’m sure the club wouldn’t approve it.”
While Dawson has joked he’d give his teammates the answers to his questions before the interviews began, he’s anything but a homer when analyzing their games on the radio. No one was sacred, not even the quarterbacks. Especially the quarterbacks, whether it was Joe Montana or Tyler Palko.
“I think I have an idea what should happen on plays, and when it doesn’t happen, I have a pretty good idea why not,” Dawson said. “Not every play is a perfect play. Very few are. I just try to look at it like I was someone looking at it in the film room, and going over it, and saying, ‘Well, this shouldn’t have happened here,’ or ‘Things should have happened there.’’’
Dawson’s profile went national when HBO, in the infancy of cable television, launched “Inside the NFL” in 1978, and he was a co-host until 2001.
“That was a pioneer in broadcasting as far as highlights of game,” said Dawson, who didn’t have cable himself when “Inside the NFL” first aired. “That was the only place you could get highlights of every game played. Now you get them all on Sunday evening when the games were over. Cable really grew after that. That was a lot of exposure, because I know all the people who played in the NFL who had cable watched that show. “
Dawson left Channel 9 during the period while he was working for NBC Sports but returned in 1986 and is the longest-tenured sportscaster in Kansas City radio and television history. Dawson stepped down from that position on a fulltime basis in 2009 but still contributes to the station’s Chiefs coverage during the season and when needed at other times of the year.
Dawson who has recovered from surgery for a pacemaker earlier this summer, grew up in Alliance, Ohio, just 20 miles from Canton, where his football and broadcasting careers intersected during his Hall of Fame induction in 1987. The ceremonies were held on a Saturday morning, and that afternoon, the Chiefs would play San Francisco in the Hall of Fame preseason game.
“I went right from, ‘Thank you very much for inducting me,’ ” Dawson said, “to, ‘I’ve got to go broadcast a game because the Chiefs are playing today.’ ”