Len Dawson Enshrinement speech

Pro Football Hall of Fame
August 8, 1987


Hank Stram (presenter):
Thank you very much. You know I first met Lenny Dawson 35 years ago when I was a baseball coach and assistant football coach at Purdue University Len was a senior at Alliance High School just 20 miles from this Hall of Fame. He was All-State Quarterback and All-State basketball player, baseball player and an excellent student. Len was shy and he was quiet. He had an era of confidence and poise that was very, very contagious. He was also very unpredictable because you never knew what his play selection would be or how he would respond to a very simple question. It was at this point that he visited our campus and saw our highlight “passing rear." After seeing this film guess what he said? “Didn’t your quarterback ever throw an incomplete forward pass?” Two years later, Lenny was a sophomore, we opened the season against Missouri and one of our coaches said "Lenny, good luck in your first convincing game for Purdue University" Lenny said, "thank you coach but you don't need luck, all you need is ability.” And he proceeded to throw 4 touchdown passes and won with a 30-0 upset over Missouri. The following week he threw 4 more touchdown passes against Notre Dame in a game that we won 28-14. He went on to be our captain. Led the Big-10 in passing and total offense for three consecutive years and was an All-American his senior year. Then he was the No. 1 draft choice for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1957. But after three years, he was traded to the Cleveland Browns. He played in the NFL for five years and only threw 45 passes. In 1962 I met Lenny in Pittsburgh with our dear friend, Joe Rittman. We discussed the possibility of Lenny playing for our team the Dallas Texans of the AFL. He liked the idea and went to Paul Brown and asked to be put on waivers so he could play for our team. Paul was kind enough to oblige. Lenny joined our team and won the starting job and led us to an AFL championship, was Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and made the All-AFL team. This acquisition was really the turning point for our franchise.

When I think of Lenny, I think of family because I knew him way before I had a family. As my wife, Phyllis often said that I spent more time with him than I did with our own family of six. You know, she was probably right. When I think of Lenny I also think of honor, I think of class, I think of style, I think of grace, and I think of dignity. When I think of Lenny I think of winning because he played a dominate role in helping us become the winningest team in the history of the American League. We won four championships, a Super Bowl and every big name there was to win in professional football. When I think of Lenny I think of leadership because he was a natural leader. He was captain of his Alliance football team, Purdue, the Dallas Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs. He led by example and the bigger the game, the better he played. He was our man of the moment. When I think of Lenny, I think of consistency. He was always the same; he never let you see him sweat. That's why his teammates called him Lenny the Cool and he completed over 57% of his passes, over a 19 year span of time. That is hard to do in the pre-game warm up. Greatness is measured by the test of time and Lenny passed that test with flying colors. I am very proud and honored that I have had this opportunity to introduce Lenny Dawson into the Pro Football's Hall of Fame. Lenny, your lovely wife, Linda, little Lenny, Lisa and your family; Lamar and all the Chiefs, Kansas City, Alliance and your many fans around the country and any person who had anything to do with the AFL, swell with pride over the honor that is yours today. Thank you very much.

Len Dawson:
Wow!! Thank you very much. Coach, I think we are going to destroy the very first thing you said about Lenny does not sweat and believe me even though it is warm out here, I am as quarterbacks call it, perspiring, other people would call it sweat. This is something. Everyone has asked me how do you feel, how will you feel when you get in front of the microphone to address the people and I actually did not know. They said what are you going to say. Well, there are some points I want to say, but I said if I could do it, if I could spit it out.

Bobby Mitchell told me the very first time he saw me in Hawaii when they announced I was going to be in the Hall of Fame, he said Len, I'm going to watch you melt. He said no matter how hard you try you still can't help it. You know it is interesting isn't it, Fawcett Stadium, for me this is where it all began. A complete cycle. But you don't get up here by yourself, you don't do it alone, you need an awful lot of help. And I have been very, very fortunate. I am the seventh son of a seventh son. And all my life they said hey, that's great, that's good luck. But I am here to attest that is definitely very,very fortunate. As I said you can't do it without people. Larry was talking about his coaches, I go back to my original coaches of my family, to my brothers and sisters and how they worked with me as a youngster to get me interested in sports, to teach me the value of sports and what it can do. My two older brothers worked with me when I was 9 and 10 years old. They taught me things that had lasted me throughout my entire athletic career. They took an interest in me.
 
Then on to high school. As you knew I am from Alliance, Ohio just down the road where Mel Knowlton started me on my way to become a football player and an accomplished one because he taught me the fundamentals necessary to play the game and I will be forever grateful for Mel Knowlton. Purdue University with Steve Holcomb, Jack Mulenkoff, and Hank Stram, I was fortunate there to be surrounded by great coaches. I don't know of anyone else who had that opportunity. At Pittsburgh it was Buddy Harper, at Cleveland it was the great Paul Brown so I've been surrounded by great people who helped me along the way.

Then there was a league called the American Football League. In 1960-61 I had completed five years in the NFL and that was about the time you started building the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And I am sure if anyone would have asked at that time, "don't you think Len Dawson might one day be here?" After they got up off the floor from laughing, they would say why should he be, what has he done. But I am the seventh son of a seventh son. Things happen to me. A man in Dallas, Texas by the name of Lamar Hunt had a dream. He wanted to get in professional football in a league called the AFL. And he had the good sense to hire Hank Stram as the coach. Hank Stram knew me at Purdue, as he said he recruited me out of Alliance High School, to attend Purdue University and that was my saving grace. Because to tell you the truth, I was awful after five years of not playing. The skills that I once had were gone. Had it not been for Hank Stram and knowing me, there would not have been a 7th look for the seventh son of a seventh son. He stayed with me, he thought there was something there. You know what else he did, he surrounded me with great players, great plays. I know some of them are here today, I know two of them are behind me today, enshrined in this Hall, Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier. Jan Stenerud and Otis Taylor, I know that they are also here today and as I said at the beginning, you can't do it alone. You have to have a great deal of help and I had the help all the way along the line.

As I said it is full cycle for me. 37 years ago I played against Canton McKinley High School at Fawcett Stadium as a young sophomore from Alliance, Ohio. This week has been so special. The treatment that we have received here in Canton, Ohio has been nothing but the very, very best. The people have been tremendous in helping us to do whatever we possibly can to get over the nervous feeling right now. The people from Canton are great, but you know something, I’ve always known that, because this is where I grew up. The people of Kansas City, for those of you who don’t know this place, is some kind of town. The people of Kansas City are tremendous; they have been tremendous to me and my family and to the Kansas City Chiefs. I am very proud, very proud to be here. This has been the greatest week of my life. Thank you very much.
 



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