Woody Paige: Why isn't the Committee compassionate enough to give Bowlen the HOF?

DENVER -- Pat Bowlen and the Broncos were left twisting in the wind again Friday.

Unfairly.

For the fourth consecutive year, since the Pro Football Hall of Fame initiated a special contributors committee, the Broncos’ owner was snubbed.

Just as the franchise’s players and coaches have been slighted for decades.

Bobby Beathard, a long-time and highly-successful former general manager, was nominated and should be voted into the Hall of Fame.

But, to be straightforward, there is a sense of urgency in regard to Bowlen. As everyone in Colorado and anyone familiar with the National Football League knows, Pat suffers with Alzheimer’s, one of society’s most devastating diseases. It begins slowly and continues to worsen over time, eventually leading to death (three to nine years, on average, after a diagnosis.)

Bowlen first revealed to me in a 2009 telephone interview that he was experiencing severe memory loss. "I have trouble remembering the two Super Bowls (the Broncos victories in 1997-98)," he said to me. He was very concerned of the developing issues with Alzheimer’s because his mother had the disease before dying.

The Broncos didn’t discuss publicly Bowlen’s health issue for years, although it was generally known in the organization and among media, his family and friends and throughout the NFL hierarchy. It was obvious in the early 2010s that Bowlen didn’t have the same strong physical-mental condition of years earlier when he competed in Iron Man triathlons and headed the league’s powerful television acquisition committee.

Three years ago last month, it was announced that Bowlen was stepping down from his daily control of the franchise and was putting the ownership in a family trust.

It has been eight years since the column I wrote about Bowlen’s condition.

According to one person who has visited Bowlen at his Cherry Hills Village home, where he is cared for, he has "some good days, some bad days." Another person told me Bowlen is in "a dark place" in his life. With assistance, he has ventured out to Castle Pines Golf Club recently.

So, why aren’t the Hall of Fame contributors committee compassionate and understanding enough to give Bowlen the NFL’s highest honor before it’s too late, before he doesn’t have one "good day" to appreciate the tribute, or before he dies?

Members of that nine-person (including one woman) board of selectors, an adjunct of the full Hall of Fame, have maintained that "Pat Bowlen will get in someday," but why not this day?

I was told by a very reliable source that the committee did not want to approve another owner a year after choosing Jerry Jones.

That makes absolutely no sense to me, particularly since I served on the Hall of Fame committee for more than a decade before resigning to give someone else in Denver the opportunity. I am fully cognizant of the foibles, the personal biases and the Eastern dominance of the committee, and there should be changes in its makeup (more former players, coaches and football executives added to, or replacing, total media representation).

However, at this moment, the concentration is: The committee committed a major mistake.

Why wouldn’t the group want to give more prominence to, and awareness of, the complications of Alzheimer’s, which affects so many millions of people in this country?

Bowlen is not the first owner with Alzheimer’s. Nor will he be the last. And there have ex-players, coaches and executives struck down with the disease.

Bowlen may be voted in next year, but he should have been voted in last year. His candidacy lost by one vote to Jones, despite the credentials of the Broncos’ owner being clearer than Jones.

Bowlen has more Super Bowls (6) than losing seasons (5) on his resume. His record since buying the team in 1984 is in the highest echelon of the league. He was responsible for Sunday Night Football. He brought in billions of dollars for the owners and players from new television revenues. He put up his own money to help build the new stadium in Denver. He has donated multiples of millions of dollars to Colorado charities and nonprofits and ordered his staff not to disclose the payments. He plowed a majority of his profits, to the point during he had to borrow money, back into the franchise to acquire players, to move the Broncos out of antiquated, embarrassing facilities (where they didn’t even have a 100-yard practice field) to a state-of-the-art training center south of Denver.

Bowlen personally was responsible for saving the team three times. He bought it from Edgar Kaiser Jr., who was clueless about owning an NFL team. He once asked me to lunch to tell me he wanted to double tickets prices and cut star player Randy Gradishar’s salary in half. Given Kaiser’s eventual financial difficulties, the Canadian may have sold the team to interests who could have tried to move it to another city.

Bowlen saved the Broncos when coach Dan Reeves was so close to trading John Elway to Washington. True.  Reeves have command over player personnel, but Bowlen jumped in at the last moment and prevented the deal.

Elway and the Broncos won two Super Bowls afterward. Imagine how bad the Broncos would have been.

And Bowlen saved the team again when it was running aground, and reaching its lowest ebb since the 1960s, during the short-lived Josh McDaniels period. He fired McDaniels and brought back Elway to oversee the football operations – at a juncture when the owner’s health was declining. Since then, the Broncos attracted Peyton Manning (signed with the $100 million blessing of Bowlen, his last major decision) and returned to the Super Bowl twice – winning 50.

Oh, it should be noted that two members of the contributors committee work out of Dallas-Fort Worth, and another was employed in Dallas. Thus, the reason for the decision last year. And the committee also has multiple members who have worked in San Diego and the Washington-Virginia-Maryland corridor, where Beathard was general manager.

A consultant for the committee worked for Beathard and spoke during the process. Charlie Casserly once called Beathard the "greatest general manager in the history of the NFL." Guess what, he probably told the committee.

Other committee members, for example, are from Philadelphia, New York, Seattle and St. Louis.

Nobody on the committee is from Denver or has ever worked in a Colorado market.

Pat Bowlen’s Hall of Fame possibility is gone with the wind once more. But tomorrow will be another day for him, we must hope.

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