Like most Kansas City Chiefs fans, team chairman and CEO Clark Hunt faced a sad day on Wednesday, as the news of Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson’s death resonated across Chiefs Kingdom.
Hunt had already issued an official statement about Dawson’s passing but made himself available to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, allowing him to speak about Dawson’s life in more personal terms.
“The Chiefs — and the city of Kansas City — have truly lost an icon,” he began. “Len Dawson has been associated with the Chiefs organization for 60 years. His impact — both on and off the field — will be remembered by generations of pro football fans.
“Len was my first sports hero, and he remains somebody I admired and respected his entire life. His impact on the Kansas City Chiefs — and everyone who has ever worked for the organization — cannot be overstated.”
Hunt spoke of his hero worship in a way that will seem very familiar to many Chiefs fans.
“I think it was — to a large degree — the coincidence of my age and when Len was having so much success on the field for the Chiefs,” he recalled. “He was really synonymous with those early Texans and Chiefs teams that won three AFL championships and Super Bowl IV. So it was pretty easy for a six or seven-year-old kid to look up to Len and say, ‘Hey, that’s one of my heroes.’”
As the team owner’s son during that time, Hunt had a somewhat different perspective than many fans. Yet his recollections of Dawson during that era varied little from those expressed by other fans throughout the day.
“As a child, I just remember being on the Chiefs field and looking up to Len,” said Hunt. “Of course, as a child, all the players were huge; he was actually one of the smaller ones of the group. But he was the one that had the ‘it’ factor. He was the one who was the leader of the team. I remember looking at him like that.”
Hunt said that in Dawson’s later years as a media personality, he continued to serve the team by helping new additions to the organization become accustomed to the team’s culture — since almost every new player, coach or executive ended up sitting with the former quarterback for an interview.
Hunt recalled that his own meeting with Dawson — right after he took over control of the team in 2005 — was “surreal,” since he was being questioned by a man he had long considered a hero.
“But he had this unique ability,” noted Hunt, “to make everybody feel comfortable and feel welcome — and feel important [in] being part of the Kansas Cty Chiefs. So he was a great asset to us — even though he wasn’t, per se, directly working for the organization — in that he was an ambassador who helped welcome generations of new football players, coaches and GMs to the Kansas City Chiefs.”
Hunt said that the team has not yet decided exactly how they will continue to honor Dawson. But planning is underway.
“We’re in discussions right now with the family on that,” he said. “We want to be respectful of what the family would like to do. Certainly, we’ll do some things during the game [against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night] — [and] then something, hopefully, later on at GEHA Field at Arrowhead, [which] would be open to the fans.”
Hunt spoke about how much he enjoyed being with Dawson every year to present the Len Dawson Scholarship, which helps deserving students with college tuition. He said that the award was very important to Dawson — and ought to figure prominently in the way he is remembered.
“I think some people are going to remember him as a player,” he predicted. “Others will remember him as a broadcaster. But I hope that everybody in Kansas City will remember him as someone who embraced the city — and really spent his entire life trying to make Kansas City a better place to live, work and play.”