Jared Lankford: A chance encounter with an icon

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I admit that there are some perks to my job.

I used to count down the hours until the final whistle blew at work just so I could go watch a ballgame.

Now, my job revolves around ballgames and finding stories that are entertaining, informative and, for lack of a better term, worth reading.

Growing up, I idolized professional athletes. One of the greatest days of my fandom life was when the Kansas City Chiefs signed Joe Montana.

I was in the sixth grade when I read the headline that he was officially a Chief.

With the best signal-caller to ever play the game at the helm, Marcus Allen in the backfield and Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith forming the best rush duo in the NFL, I knew the Chiefs were going to win the Super Bowl.

Many Sundays, I would listen to the golden play-by-play voice of Kevin Harlan, and his trusty color analyst Len Dawson, describe the action at Arrowhead.

Their broadcast made me feel like I was part of the action. I knew it was as close to setting foot inside Arrowhead Stadium as I could get.

To those Chiefs fans who are more mature in age than I, Dawson was the man who led Kansas City to their only Lombardi Trophy. To me, he was the voice that spoon fed my appetite for all things pertaining to the Chiefs Kingdom.

While most kids my age would relive the big plays of a game by recreating them in their front yards, I did so by pretending I was calling the game on the radio.

As a matter of fact, the only football card that I own is a Dawson rookie card given to me by a preacher named Don Pruitt.

Since I have taken the job at The Monett Times, I have gained media access to several college and professional sporting events.

On once such occasion the first year I started at the paper, I was awarded a media

credential to a Sunday night game between the Chiefs and San Diego Chargers.

I am notorious for wanting to get to games early; like a minimum of two hours or more before kickoff.

The Chiefs always have a nice buffet for the media and other special guests to share in the press box.

I wasn't shy on this night about fixing a plate and finding a place to sit down.

I found an empty table and began to enjoy my meal while reading a copy of the game program and media notes the Chiefs had provided.

It was not long until I noticed that another individual had joined me at my glorified card table.

I glanced up and it was Len Dawson. I immediately lost all interest in eating and went into a I-have-got-to-say-something-to-him mode.

My obvious first thought was not to say or ask anything stupid. I racked my brain for a suitable question to ask a man who has been the face and voice of an organization for 40-plus years.

It then came to me. I remembered that the Chiefs were having problems in the secondary and that San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers was picking defensive secondaries apart that season. My question would be about how Kansas City planned to solve this obvious mismatch.

I was proud of myself for quickly drawing this conclusion. However, there are two parts to asking a question. First is thinking it up, and second is verbalizing the terms.

While my mind developed this great query that would prove to be the game's focal key, the verbalization of that question sound more like, "You're Len Dawson."

What had begun as the seed to getting to talk to a man I had looked up to all my life, devolved into a scene fit for the Chris Farley Show skit on Saturday Night Live.

I quickly recovered from my grammatical fumble and properly formed my question.

It was quickly apparent that Mr. Dawson was a graduate level student from the Dale Carnage "How to Win Friends and Influence People" Academy.

He spent the next 20 minutes interviewing me and making me feel like I was special.

When I returned to the office on Monday, I received an email from Dawson saying what a pleasure it had been for him to get to meet and get to know me.

That game changed my life forever.

I learned that Len Dawson was the great man and role model that I had thought he was. I also learned that if I was going to pursue a career in journalism, I had to ask better questions.

Since that time, I have had multiple opportunities to interview major college stars, professional athletes and coaches without the same mental hiccup.

I've learned to always be prepared now matter the situation. You never know who is going to sit at your dinner table.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville Democrat. He may be reached at sports@cassville-democrat.com, or at 417-847-2610.

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