January 21, 2020 — The last time the Kansas City Chiefs made the Super Bowl a half-century ago, their star quarterback entered the showdown with the Minnesota Vikings hounded by questions of mob links. Kansas City beat Tennessee 35-24 back on Sunday to punch their first ticket to the big game in 50 years.
On January 11, 1970 in Super Bowl IV, Hall of Fame field general Len Dawson came back from a season-long battle with a knee injury to lead the underdog Chiefs to a 23-7 upset of favored Minnesota to claim the organization’s only world championship. The game was played in New Orleans and the Chiefs were getting 12 points on the betting line.
Dawson was the game’s MVP, connecting on 12-of-17 passing for 142 yards and a touchdown. Days prior, his name surfaced in a mob gambling bust out of Detroit. The Motor City’s premiere bookie of the era, Don (Dice) Dawson, was nailed on New Year’s Day in a federal gambling case, taken into custody as he hosted a college-bowl watching party at his restaurant headquarters, the Fox and Hounds Inn, located in the swanky suburb of Bloomfield Hills. FBI agents discovered a piece of paper with Len Dawson’s name and phone number hand-written on it inside Dice Dawson’s sports jacket pocket (the pair weren’t related by blood). The feds also found $500,000 in cash in the restaurant’s safe.
Dice Dawson was known to keep company with many pro athletes and “belonged” to Detroit’s Tocco-Zerilli crime family. Detroit mob capos the Giacalone brothers and the Corrado brothers both had pieces of Dawson’s sports book, according to a Michigan State Police report, and Dawson was suspected of fixing NFL games throughout the 1950s and 60s in tandem with multiple mafia groups across the country, including the Kansas City Civella crime family. The U.S. Attorneys Office hailed the bust as the takedown of “one of the largest and most-influential sports gambling czars in America.”
Len Dawson was called in front of a federal grand jury investigating Dice Dawson to account of his relationship to the Motown mega bookie and admitted to having socialized with him in the past, but denied placing bets or taking part in any wrongdoing. Despite being dogged by rumors of gambling his entire 18-year playing career, Dawson never faced any charges. Crafting a successful post-football career in television and radio broadcasting for himself, he finally put the mic down in 2017. Today, he’s 84.
Dice Dawson went on to be convicted and imprisoned as a result of his New Year’s 1970 bust. After his release in 1978, he left Detroit for Las Vegas, living there until he died of natural causes in the spring of 2012. Dawson went to the grave having admitted to fixing more than 30 NFL games (see Dan Moldea’s book Interference), including a conspiracy to manipulate point spreads with future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne, who was shipped from the Detroit Lions to the Pittsburgh Steelers amid a cloud of suspicion after the 1958 season in a trade allegedly encouraged by league officials. Federal investigators tied Dawson’s phone records to other NFL signal callers as well, Len Dawson, Joe Namath, Karl Sweetan and Bill Munson, among them.
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