|Along with Tom Watson and George Brett, Len Dawson (above) is a Kansas City icon. (File/ Associated Press)|
KC has its own 'Big 3'
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Len Dawson revived his career in Kansas City, led the Chiefs to their only Super Bowl, and later became a local sports anchor.
Tom Watson honed his game in Cowtown's ever-changing weather, and always returned there after winning those major golf championships.
George Brett wasn't sure where Kansas City was before arriving as a wild-eyed, long-haired teenager, but he ended up earning a World Series ring and raising a family there.
Three star athletes, one city, linked by championships, common values, and long-term mutual admiration.
"Kansas City is lucky to have three icons like that who stayed in the community and became such a big part of the community," Kansas City Royals manager Dayton Moore said.
Every sports town has its icons, athletes who became intertwined with their communities, embodiments of their teams; think of one, you can't help but think of the other.
Big cities can have several iconic sports figures. New York has Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter - and that's just the Yankees. In Boston, there's Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Ted Williams, Bobby Orr, to name just a few.
In smaller cities and college towns, the list is smaller and the connections often deeper.
Gritty winners Bart Starr and Vince Lombardi - and Brett Favre before his recent shenanigans - are revered in Green Bay. Any discussion of sports in Minnesota starts with gregarious Twins star Kirby Puckett.
Dawson, Brett, and Watson are the kings of Cowtown.
The Big Three had something extra, special qualities that created a bond with the city's people.
They had longevity, were a part of the community. Brett played 20 seasons in Kansas City, Dawson 13, and both lived in the area after their careers ended. Watson grew up in KC and never left. They were champions, too. Dawson and Brett led their teams to the only titles in the city's history; Watson earned eight major championships.
More than that, they possessed many of the traits held dear in the Heartland: honesty, thoughtfulness, sincerity, professionalism. They also had that Midwestern blue-collar work ethic, turning talent into greatness by getting dirt under their fingernails.
"Work ethic is key," Brett said. "I worked hard. I know Tommy Watson worked hard and I'm sure Lenny Dawson worked hard. To be successful, you have to work hard, and from what I've seen in the 34 years I've lived here, the people here are generally hard workers and they're very giving."
Watson knows all about the affability of Midwesterners.
His family goes back four generations in the Kansas City area. Watson could have moved to someplace like Florida or Texas, where he could play in warm weather year-round, but he stayed, preferring the four seasons of the Midwest and the friendliness of its people.
"I've always enjoyed the city and what it had to offer, from all the arts to the sports to the friendliness of the Midwest people," said Watson, who lives in rural Stillwell, Kan., about half an hour south of Kansas City. "The qualities of the folk - I've always enjoyed the Midwest work ethic - the way people will look at you when you're walking down the street. They take the time to be nice to you."
As Brett quickly found out.
He had no idea which state Kansas City was in when the Royals drafted him in 1971, and he scoffed when his brother, Ken, said he should stay in town rather than head back to Southern California in the offseason.
Brett took to Kansas City right away and had a great career, flirting with .400 during an MVP season in 1980 and leading the Royals to their only World Series title five years later. He remained in town after retiring in 1993 and still lives here, his job as Royals vice president allowing him to attend his three sons' baseball games.
"I knew nothing about this town, but I got here and I liked it," said Brett. "I was pretty amazed at how friendly everyone was to me."
Kansas City is the place where Dawson revived one career, started another.
Written off after five years with the Steelers and Browns, Dawson became a Hall of Famer in Kansas City, leading the Chiefs to the Super Bowl in 1970. He also made a shrewd move in 1966 while still playing, taking a part-time job as a local sportscaster. He's been a fixture on Kansas City TV ever since.
The trio endeared themselves to an entire region. They lived with the people here, became icons because they had many of the same values as the people around them.
It wasn't part of some big design. They were just themselves.
"The harder you work, the better your luck and the better prepared you are," Dawson said. "It's just a way to be positive about things."