Pat Bowlen, Broncos owner, nominated as a contributor finalist for Pro Football Hall of Fame
More Super Bowl appearances than losing seasons. Nearly 350 wins. Conference championships with four different head coaches. And a leader at the NFL level.
All of that was enough for Broncos owner Pat Bowlen to be nominated Thursday for induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Finally, those around him believe.
“If you dig up the history of the NFL as a whole and where it is today, Pat Bowlen was a visionary,” said former Broncos receiver Rod Smith.
The Contributor’s Selection Committee agreed. The five-person panel of media members selected Bowlen and former Dallas personnel executive Gil Brandt as their Class of 2019 nominees.
Broncos president-CEO Joe Ellis said the organization was “absolutely thrilled” for Bowlen and his family.
“There’s no question that Pat elevated the NFL, the Broncos and our region over the last three decades,” Ellis said in a statement. “It’s very special to see Pat take such a significant step toward the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Bowlen, Brandt and former Kansas City defensive back Johnny Robinson, the senior’s committee nominee announced last week, will be presented to the full selection committee on Feb. 2 (the day before the Super Bowl) in Atlanta. Nominees are required to get 80 percent of the vote for enshrinement, which will take place next August in Canton, Ohio.
The contributor’s category is for “individuals who made outstanding contributions to professional football in capacities other than playing or coaching.”
“When you talk about the contributor category, I don’t think anybody is more deserving than Pat,” Broncos general manager John Elway told The Denver Post last week.
On Twitter after Bowlen’s nomination, Elway said: “I can’t wait for the day Pat’s bust joins the Bronco family (in the Pro Football Hall of Fame).”
Before 2015, contributors were included in the modern-era pool of candidates that includes coaches and players. But a bylaw change in 2014 allowed for a contributors’ category — chiefly owners and general managers — and that cleared a path for former San Francisco owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., and current Dallas owner Jerry Jones and general managers Bill Polian, Ron Wolf and Bobby Beathard to be elected.
Bowlen, Brandt and Robinson will be among 18 finalists. Fifteen modern-era finalists are expected to be announced next month. The 2019 ceremony would have a Broncos flavor if Bowlen and former cornerback Champ Bailey, in his first year of eligibility, are elected.
Although not a rubber-stamp for induction, Bowlen’s nomination is a huge step. In the last four years, five of the six contributor nominees have been elected.
Bowlen’s resume since buying the Broncos from Edgar Kaiser in 1984 certainly merits induction: Seven Super Bowl appearances (second all-time among owners), only six losing seasons (none in back-to-back years), 348 wins (tied for fifth), 21 winning seasons (tied for sixth all time) and a combined 91 years on 15 league committees, third-most behind Hall of Fame owners Dan Rooney (Pittsburgh) and Lamar Hunt (Kansas City).
Only 14 owners or team founders are among 24 contributors in the Hall of Fame.
Bowlen stepped aside from his Broncos and league duties in July 2014 to battle Alzheimer’s.
In a statement to The Denver Post, Beth Bowlen Wallace, one of Pat’s daughters, said: “I’m excited my father has been nominated as a contributor finalist by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s well deserved and surely all the past and present Broncos players, coaches and executives — along with the fans — are eager to hopefully celebrate his induction into the 2019 class.”
The Bowlen family released a statement after Pat’s nomination, calling it an “exciting day.”
“Pat would be the first to say it’s not just about him but a credit to the many players, coaches and executives he worked with over the years,” the statement said. “We’re thankful to the Contributor Committee for recognizing the incredible impact Pat’s had on the NFL.”
Universal in their praise of Bowlen were former players and current executives, citing his selfless approach.
Did he want to win? Absolutely. Did he want to be kept in the loop? Totally. But he hired who he felt was right for the job, provided them with the necessary resources and then supported them.
“Pat was not, ‘Hey, look at me, look at me,’” said Smith, the Broncos’ all-time leader in receptions (849). “I watched him run this organization and Pat was never the focus. His vision was always the focus. He put people in place to make sure that vision came true.”
Said former receiver Ed McCaffrey, who played his final nine seasons with the Broncos: “Mr. Bowlen is a slam dunk Hall of Famer. I get emotional trying to talk about it because he’s the type of owner who checked his ego at the door, he bleeds orange and blue, he loves his players, he loves his coaches and he loves the fans.”
Cemented in Broncos history and NFL lore was Bowlen accepting the Lombardi Trophy after the Broncos’ upset Super Bowl victory over Green Bay in January 1998 and exclaiming, “This one’s for John!” before handing the prize to Elway, who was in his 15th season and appearing in his fourth Super Bowl.
“He wanted that more for John than he did for himself,” McCaffrey said. “That’s the type of owner he was.”
Elway returned the favor 18 years later after the Broncos’ Super Bowl win over Carolina when he accepted the trophy and said, “This one’s for Pat!”
Despite the franchise’s success, only five players who spent all or a majority of their careers with the Broncos are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Elway (inducted in 2004), offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman (2008), tight end Shannon Sharpe (2011) and tailbacks Terrell Davis (2017) and Floyd Little (2010).
In Bowlen’s conference room, adjacent to his office at the Broncos’ Dove Valley headquarters, he has framed jerseys of Elway, Zimmerman, Sharpe and Davis, the Hall of Famers who played for him. Bowlen is one step from joining some of the sport’s luminaries and several of his former players.
“He’s so quick to give credit to everybody else,” McCaffrey said. “It’s time to give him a little bit of credit.”
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) August 23, 2018
When you talk about contributors, nobody’s given more to the game than Pat Bowlen. His impact on the Broncos and NFL will never be matched, and it’s great to see that recognized today.
— John Elway (@johnelway) August 23, 2018
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