Broncos owner Pat Bowlen refused to live in gray areas. His expectations for the Broncos were championships. Anything else was a disappointment. His driving force helped produce three Super Bowl titles, and forge a legacy worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Tuesday, a nine-person subcommittee will vote on two contributor finalists to submit to the Hall of Fame committee. Bowlen is a strong candidate to advance, leaving him position to become a member in Canton on Feb. 4 at Super Bowl 51. The competition is stiff, including former commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Cowboys godfather of football, Gil Brandt and Dallas owner Jerry Jones. However, Bowlen boasts a resume that is impossible to ignore. He was the fastest owner to reach 300 wins. And his teams have had five losing seasons since he bought the team for $78 million in 1984.
Bowlen ceded day-to-day control of the Broncos in July 2014 as he battles Alzheimer's disease. When the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, general manager John Elway provided the exclamation point, declaring "This one's for Pat." It brought the pair full circle since it was Bowlen who paid tribute to Elway when the Broncos finally broke through for a championship following the 1997 season.
The Broncos inducted Bowlen into the team's Ring of Fame last season. He was too ill to attend the ceremony.
If you want to know why Bowlen’s Ring of Fame induction during halftime of the game against Green Bay meant so much to the Broncos, walk into the trainer’s room, step into the locker room, call a former player. They gush and fight back tears when explaining his impact.
Bowlen set the standard for excellence, turning the Broncos into an AFC powerhouse. Bowlen stood out because he stood in the background, a driving force with a heart in a sport short on sympathy and compassion.
“He loved his players. Loved them,” said Broncos president Joe Ellis.
Bowlen is not one dimensional. He helped grow the league internationally and was driving force on the NFL's broadcast committee. He helped spearhead "Sunday Night Football," which has become a staple for viewers.
“I’ve always felt that the really great and iconic owners are the owners who have not only built great franchises individually, but have worked really hard to make the NFL a better product," longtime broadcaster Al Michaels said. "The fact that Sunday night is now the biggest night — that goes back to Pat. That goes back to him working with Dick Ebersol, who ran NBC Sports (and will be in Denver on Sunday)."
For players, Bowlen has long been a Hall of Famer. He made their lives easier with extra seats on planes, TVs in the locker rooms and bigger coaching staffs. But it was the human touch that stuck out, and why they'd love to see him achieve football immortality.
"He was the first one to call me after I hurt my knee, and I will never forget that," said Broncos Ring of Famer Terrell Davis. "He was always there for us. He wanted us to be the best. He set the standard. You never wanted to let him down."