Len Dawson’s career had risen from the ashes by 1963. A highly sought after quarterback out of Purdue University he had been drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers but was a backup to eventual Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne (who had praised Dawson as “the next great quarterback in pro ball”) and eventually filled a similar position with the Cleveland Browns.
But 1962 saw him out of the NFL and leading the upstart AFL’s Kansas City franchise to the new league’s championship. Suddenly Len Dawson was the player many thought he would be.
The year 1963 was his sixth as a pro, but only his second in the American Football League. The following is a Q&A (question-and-answer) that Dawson did sometime over his second season with the Texans/Chiefs and that current day fans might find mildly soft given today’s media inquiries of a similar nature.
Q: You were the Steelers’ No. 1 draft choice in 1957. But in three seasons at Pittsburgh and two at Cleveland you hardly left the bench.
DAWSON: “That’s right. Until I came here I had never played an entire game, start to finish. I played parts of some exhibition games with the Steelers and less than that with the Browns.”
Q: That’s not much action for a No. 1 draft choice. Why did they refuse to use you?
DAWSON: It has to be one of two reasons. First, because they didn’t have confidence in me. That’s hard to believe. Why would I have been there? Second, because Buddy Parker and Paul Brown believe in finding one quarterback and sticking to him through thick or thin.”
Q: Hank Stram has the same philosophy. How do you feel about it now that you’re that No. 1 guy?
DAWSON: “I’ve always wanted to be in this predicament. But if I’m not doing the job he ought to get me out of there.”
Q: Bobby Layne was one of your biggest boosters when you were at Pittsburgh. Were you aware of this?
DAWSON: “I’ve read it. We’re very good friends. He tried to give me some pointers on leadership, on handling the club on the field. His greatest quality in the last few years has been leadership.”
Q: Are the same type of leader?
DAWSON: “We’re different personalities. He is more outspoken. Louder.”
Q: You and Milt Plum were both with Paul Brown two years ago and last year you were the top quarterbacks in the two pro leagues. Is this surprising?
DAWSON: “Of course Milt led the NFL two or three seasons before Paul Brown traded him so he shouldn’t be a surprise. In order to complete passes you have to have receivers. Excluding Ray Renfro, Detroit has much better receivers. In a clutch situation at Cleveland, Renfro was always the guy we would look for.”
Q: Brown claimed that neither you nor Plum can throw the long ball.
DAWSON: “Actually, he never had that many long passes in the game plan I don’t know why he would make statements like that about me. He seldom saw me throw, even in practice. He could look at my collegiate record and find out if I could throw long.”
Q: Some say you are the same type quarterback as Plum: champions of the short pass, passers with low interception ratios. You agree?
DAWSON: “No, Milt is basically a pocket passer although that’s the way the Browns wanted it. I feel I can have a lot of success by moving even though I don’t like to. Again, our personalities are different Leadership has a great deal to do with it.”
Q: This brings us to a real enigma. Off the field you have a reputation for being quiet and reserved. But players say that on the field you are a real holler guy, the first guy to chew them out when they make a mistake. Why the change in personalities?
DAWSON: “I like to win. I like to eliminate mistakes. During the week the coaches are the leaders. When the game starts it’s my job. I don’t want them to get mental lapses. The worst thing in football is to give up the ball because of a mental lapse.”
Q: You don’t seem hard-boiled, even when you’re doing it for effect.
DAWSON: “I’d rather compliment a guy. But if makes a mistake I want him to know it. Back to personalities, some guys can get away with it and some can’t.”
Q: One reason for your success is your ability to find a secondary receiver, a failing that limits some quarterbacks. Have you trained yourself to do this or is it a gift?
DAWSON: “Nothing in football is a gift except speed. A quarterback has to be mentally prepared – to know their personnel and his own. That’s the biggest fault with college quarterbacks. They not only don’t know the defense, they don’t even know their own team. I know I didn’t.”
Q: Scouting reports claim you are not a good runner. Yet you’ve run in key situations and averaged 8.1 yards.
DAWSON: “I’m not a good runner. I don’t have the speed. What I want to do is keep the defense honest. The reason I got those yards is because they came flying in there and I stepped around them. If you step around a guy and make ten yards, he’ll slow up next time.”
Q: But unlike a lot of quarterbacks, you don’t look for the sidelines when you run.
DAWSON: “The only reason a quarterback goes for the sidelines is to keep from getting hurt. I’ve been rapped a few times stepping out of bounds. My senior year against Notre Dame some guy hit me when I was already stopped and knocked me into the second row of seats. If a guy is going to take a shot at me, I’d rather it happen in the fat part of the field where I can at least make a few yards.”
Q: Outwardly you look like the coolest guy in the stadium. What are you thinking on the field?
DAWSON: “You just said it: thinking. I’m thinking what I’ll call next, wondering if they’ll blitz, thinking if they do blitz how will I take advantage of it. And a lot of time I’m just plain tired.”