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Len Dawson’s death at age 87 on Aug. 24 had the sports world paying tribute to the Kansas City Chiefs’ rock-solid, reliable quarterback. But let’s face it: Even though he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Dawson has been flying under the radar among gridiron collectors.

As a player, he was overshadowed during his career by Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Sonny Jurgensen and Fran Tarkenton — although he most definitely belongs in any conversation about the NFL’s best quarterbacks. In the hobby, the shadows loom even larger. Collectors flock first to earlier-era quarterbacks like Sammy Baugh and Otto Graham along with a growing list of later QBs, from Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and John Elway to Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Dawson’s effectiveness as a leader was never more apparent than in Super Bowl IV. Three years earlier, his Chiefs fell to Green Bay in the first Super Bowl, but he wouldn’t be denied when Kansas City faced off against the Vikings in January 1970. To get to the big game, Dawson led the Chiefs to an 11-3 record, then edged the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders in playoff wins on the road.

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In the Super Bowl, Dawson was at his methodical best. He completed 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards and a TD, earning MVP honors.

Dawson retired after the 1975 season and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987. Besides playing in two Super Bowls and winning one, he also won the 1962 AFL championship, when the Chiefs were still the Dallas Texans.

Originally drafted by the Steelers in 1957, Dawson spent three seasons as a backup in Pittsburgh. He moved on to the Cleveland Browns (he was a native of nearby Alliance, Ohio) for two seasons, still working as a backup. Then he hooked on with the AFL’s Texans. It was the break he needed: He became an instant star, throwing for 29 TDs and 2,759 yards in 1962, earning AFL Player of the Year honors.

Dawson went on to play until 1975, retiring after that season with 239 TD passes and 28,711 yards.

In the hobby, you can build an impressive stash of Dawson cards at collector-friendly prices. His rookie is a 1963 Fleer (imagine that: Dawson’s cardboard debut came six seasons into his career!). You can pick up a Dawson rook for less than $1,000 if you set your sights on a 5- or 6-grade card.

1963 Fleer Len Dawson card.

1963 Fleer Len Dawson card.

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Even Near-Mint specimens sell for far lower prices than those of all the aforementioned QBs. On eBay recently, we spotted a Dawson Fleer rookie that sold for only $1,300 despite its PSA 9 grade. An autographed 2021 Panini Flawless 1-of-1 insert card is the only eBay listing that drew a higher price in recent months: $1,475 ungraded.

Other recent sales show an ungraded Dawson rookie that sold for $600 on one bid, a PSA 6 example that brought $592 on 10 bids and an SGC 5.5 example that went for $556 on 33 bids.

That said, major auction houses can yield higher results for Dawson rookie cards. At Goldin Co., a PSA 9 Dawson fetched $7,380, but it was in September, just after Dawson’s death. A more typical range is $1,500-$2,500 in 9 condition.

After Dawson’s Fleer rookie, he appeared in every Topps set through 1975, with one notable exception: 1974. The manufacturer inexplicably left him out of that set. (Our speculation: Dawson’s previous season, 1973, found him hobbled. He started only six games, and Topps may have assumed that, at age 37, he’d be retiring. In that era, the company typically didn’t “honor” retiring players with a career-spanning card. Dawson fooled them and played two more seasons.)

Other desirable Dawson cards include these, as sold on eBay recently:

• 1964 Topps graded SGC 7.5 on 22 bids: $510

• 1967 Topps graded PSA 9: $676 on 15 bids

1967 Topps Len Dawson card.

1967 Topps Len Dawson card.

• 1970 Topps graded PSA 9 on 22 bids: $430

1970 Topps Len Dawson card.

1970 Topps Len Dawson card.

• 1971 Topps graded PSA 8 on 14 bids: $301 on 14 bids.

A Dawson-signed football helmet typically sells for hundreds. One full-size example with Hall of Fame authentication recently sold for $650. Another with Beckett authentication brought $371. And Dawson-signed mini-helmets have recently sold for $250, $178 and $123.

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