Willie Lanier delivered quite the history lesson when asked to share an anecdote that summed up the essence of Len Dawson.
“I think it was the confidence the ’69 team had in who he was,” Lanier, the Hall of Fame middle linebacker, told USA TODAY Sports. Dawson, the former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, will be laid to rest on Sept. 16 after he died Wednesday at age 87.
Of course, that 1969 team Lanier referred to was a special cast that captured a Super Bowl IV crown behind the AFL’s best defense and its highly complex quarterback.
However, early in the campaign, it might have looked like the season would go up in flames. In Week 2, Dawson suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for six games.
“Not having surgery, which would have ended his career, left our team with hope that he had to come back to be the engineer to go to a playoff game and go after a Super Bowl.” Lanier said. “You had to have someone who had experience.”
After Dawson’s backup Jaky Lee suffered a season-ending broken ankle in his first start, the Chiefs had to play young, unproven third-string Mike Livingston.
“And with that, it was a complete defensive commitment that you had to keep the score close to everybody because the rookie wasn’t going to have the ability to bring you back any way,” Lanier reflected. “If you were going to win the whole, you had to have the veteran in place. With this faith in the process, he did just that. He got healthy, took over and ended up taking over the rest of the playoffs.”
LEN DAWSON: Chiefs’ Hall of Fame QB and broadcaster dies at 87
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Dawson came off the bench to earn his first game back from injury, then led the way in road wins against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Jets and Oakland Raiders that helped seal a playoff berth of that allowed the Chiefs to become the first wild card team to win a Super Bowl.
At the end of that campaign, Dawson was named Super Bowl MVP – in an era when a quarterback could complete 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards and earn MVP honors. He ran Hank Stram’s “moving pocket” offense to a tee. And his Hall of Fame credentials are underlined by his four AFL titles and the eight times he led that league in completion percentage.
However, Lanier is most remembered for her peerless persona, particularly in crunch time, as she boosted the confidence of the entire team.
“A calm demeanor,” Lanier described. “One that never rattled. One he was sure could bring it back like any of the top guys in the sport over time. He had the ability to manage men and expect and demand respect and the result showed it.”
Lanier, who lives in Richmond, Va., returned to Kansas City this week, mourning another loss from his Chiefs family. Last month, he was linebacker Jim Lynch’s partner. Earlier this summer, Bobby Bell’s wife Pamela passed away. Now Dawson, who has found great success following his career as a broadcaster.
“For Len to come through, he just recognizes the timing,” Lanier, 77, said. “That’s the reality of life and the stage we happen to be in. These calls are coming in more and more.”
However, it also seems obvious that the esteem that Lanier carries certainly stands the test of time.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hall of Fame running back Willie Lanier reflects on Len Dawson