In the days before the Super Bowl in 1970 (Super Bowl IV pitting the Kansas City Chiefs & the Minnesota Vikings) Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro quarterback Len Dawson was linked to a federal mob gambling investigation in Detroit tied to the activities of Donnie “Dice” Dawson (no relation), one of the top bookmakers and most-connected mafia associates in the United States at the time, indicted less than two weeks earlier. Len Dawson’s phone number was written on a piece of paper inside Dice Dawson’s pocket when he was taken into custody by the FBI on January 1, 1970 at his ritzy headquarters, the stately Fox and Hounds Inn & Restaurant in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, an affluent suburb roughly 10 miles north of Detroit’s city limits.
Admitting to being socially acquainted with his namesake in the Motor City, Len Dawson, who was called in front of a federal grand jury investigating the ‘Dice Man’s’ connections to professional athletes and allegations of point shaving, denied any wrongdoing and proved undaunted by the embarrassing pre-game headlines and went on to lead his club to a 23-7 win, snagging MVP honors in the process. Dawson played almost 20 seasons under center in the NFL, throwing for close to 30,000 yards and over 235 touchdowns, eventually being elected to the Hall of Fame and becoming a popular television broadcaster in retirement.
He was dogged by gambling rumors virtually his whole career in the pros, which ended in 1975 (Dawson had suited up for the Chiefs, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers in his time slinging the NFL pigskin). Currently, Dawson, 80, is a sports director for the ABC affiliate in Kansas City and does color commentary for Chiefs games on the radio.
Dice Dawson’s name was infamous nationwide in organized crime and gambling circles in the mid-to-late 20th Century. Well known as an expert handicapper, massive bookmaker and savvy racketeer, he reported and “kicked up” to the Detroit mob’s notorious Giacalone brothers, syndicate street bosses Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone and Vito (Billy Jack) Giacalone and before that the Giacalones’ mentors in capo Pietro (Machine Gun Pete) Corrado (died of sudden heart attack in 1957).
The Giacalones, Machine Gun Pete Corrado, his two sons, lieutenants and successors, Dominic (Fats) Corrado and Anthony (Tony the Bull) Corrado, were frequent patrons at the Fox and Hounds, according to FBI documents of the day, rubbing elbows and hobnobbing with Motown sports figures from the era’s Detroit Lions, Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings. The property was located down the street from where the Lions held training camp and offseason workouts on the bucolic Cranbrook estate.
Built in 1927 at the corner of Long Lake Road and Woodward Avenue, throughout its’ 80-year existence, the castle-shaped Fox and Hounds was a dining staple for high society in Southeastern Michigan. Closing its doors in 2007, the posh restaurant and its grounds have since been transformed into a strip mall.
Dice Dawson went on to be convicted and imprisoned as a result of his New Year’s 1970 indictment. After his release in the late 1970s he left Detroit for Las Vegas. Dawson lived in Vegas until he died of natural causes in May 2012. Tony and Billy Giacalone passed away via natural causes in 2001 and 2012, respectively. The equally-fearsome Corrado boys, Fats and Tony the Bull did the same in 1985 and 2002 respectively.
Born and raised in the Metro Detroit area, the son of a successful owner of a series of Chevrolet car dealerships, Donnie Dawson was a ball boy for the Lions as a young man. Just a few short years later as a teenager he earned his nickname, “Dice,” for his uncanny ability to shoot craps.
Attending college at Holy Cross in Massachusetts and then serving in the Marine Corps in World War II, he returned home to the Motor City after his time in the military to take a job selling cars at one of his father’s dealerships. Within months, he was gravitating towards members of the local organized crime syndicate and being put to work as a bookmaker, where he was fast to earn a reputation as a fast-riser in the area’s gambling scene.
By the late 1950s, law enforcement tabbed him one of Metro Detroit’s top bookies and a high-level Mafia associate. FBI and Michigan State Police reports from the 1950s and ’60s show that informants were telling authorities of Dawson’s friendships and business relationships with local gangsters like the Giacalones and the Corrados as well as two of the city’s most beloved and popular pro football players in Bobby Layne and Alex Karras.
Dice Dawson is one of the names of underworld figures that the NFL cited Karras was linked to when suspending him due to his gambling and unsavory social companions for the entire 1963 season. Karras, a hulking lineman, was also forced to sell his ownership interests in a mob hangout and famous Detroit watering hole, The Lindell Athletic Club or Lindell A.C., to gain re-entry into the NFL for the 1964 campaign. Following his retirement, Karras became a fairly successful television and movie actor. He also dabbled in pro wrestling.
FBI surveillance logs shows Karras spending long hours at the Fox and Hounds in the years after he sold his piece of “The A.C.” drinking and partying with Dice Dawson before finally departing for Hollywood. When Dawson was arrested around the same time Karras left full time for the “Left Coast” at literally the very start of the 1970s, the FBI hauled $400,000 out of his safe at the Fox and The Hounds and hailed the bust as taking down “one of the biggest and most influential bookies in the country.”
In an interview with author Dan Moldea for Moldea’s book “Interference — How Organized Crime Influences Pro Football” — published in 1989 — Dawson admitted to coordinating point-shaving schemes in more than 30 NFL games, asserting that Layne, a Hall of Fame field general and the Lions’ all-time greatest quarterback, was one of the players he used to manipulate outcomes. Layne denied the accusations before he died in 1986.
Specifically, Dice Dawson accused Bobby Layne of fixing at least seven games for him in the 1950s, one of them being the final game of the 1956 regular season versus the Chicago Bears for the division championship, where the underdog Bears beat favored Detroit. Layne asked out of the game in the second quarter and never returned.
One particular FBI record, supported by several Michigan State Police records, describe confidential informants telling them Layne was traded from the Lions to the Steelers midway through the 1958 season, less than a year removed from him guiding the franchise to a world championship because of the organization’s worries over his hoodlum associates (specifically mentioning Dice Dawson and others) and gambling habits, believed by the Lions, per these reports, as compromising his integrity on the field.
Per FBI documents regarding Dice Dawson’s sports-betting business, the fun-loving gambling czar was connected via phone records and law enforcement surveillance to other NFL signal callers, specifically, Joe Namath (NY Jets), Karl Sweetan (L.A. Rams) and Bill Munson (Detroit Lions). Like Karras years before him, the iconic Namath was forced by the NFL to sell his ownership interests in what was suspected as an east coast mob hangout