CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The statue captures the man. Outside of Sports Authority Field, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen stands forever in a commanding pose overlooking the action. Arms folded, chiseled face, intense expression, and eyes cloaked by sunglasses. He represented authority, a demanding presence who respected those he employed to accomplish their goals without meddling interference.
As the owner of the Broncos for 33 years, Bowlen has lived that motto, the organization continuing to achieve even as he stepped away from daily duties prior to the 2014 season because of the evils of Alzheimer’s disease. Friday, Bowlen continued the painful waiting game. The Contributors Committee snubbed him again, as Bowlen failed to land the lone spot reserved in the 2018 class for a contributor to the game.
Former Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard received the nod.
There will be two contributor spots available next fall, making it seem inevitable Bowlen moves on. But it fails to make this latest omission any easier. There's no comparison betwen the resumes of Beathard and Bowlen.
It’s hard to reconcile why Bowlen is not in football’s hallowed hall. Perhaps, it wasn’t his turn. With Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones entering last year, there was growing speculation this week the pendulum would swing back to a general manager this time. And that's how it played out.
By now, Broncos fans are well aware of Bowlen’s resume. The unprecedented 300-plus victories in 30 seasons, fastest to that mark in NFL history. The seven Super Bowl appearances. No owner has more. Three Super Bowl championships, tied for fourth. The five losing seasons since 1984. And, perhaps more salient, the Broncos own the second highest winning percentage of any professional sports team since he took over in 1984, second only to the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.
"It all starts with the owner," said President and CEO Joe Ellis, "And it all starts with the guy who, consistently had the same approach, the same mandate to his players, his coaches, his employees: and that was to be the best in everything, and put all our resources into winning championships, and if it didn't work out, come back next year and try to do it all over again each and every year. That's his legacy."
Bowlen endeared himself to players for his compassion and desire to win. He left no reason for them not to succeed, this approach illustrated as the Broncos claimed back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998.
“We knew we had the best of everything, so it was up to us to go out there and perform,” said Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe. “That’s what you can appreciate most. He wasn’t meddlesome. He stayed away. He let us do our job and we didn’t want to let him down.”
During Bowlen’s tenure, the Broncos have sold out 284 consecutive games, extending the team’s NFL record to 387 sellouts and counting. Bowlen’s impact runs deeper than the Broncos. He was an influential figure who helped changed the course of the NFL. He was a member nine different NFL committees, including chairman of the broadcasting committee. He helped negotiate an $18 billion TV contract, the most lucrative in single-sport history. He was shrewd in the boardroom, capable of balancing micro and macro interests.
Bowlen had long wanted the ability to “flex” the NFL’s prime-time schedule because “Monday Night Football” had fallen into a multiyear slump of showing poor matchups when the games mattered most. Bowlen found an audience with NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, who viewed the games as events, featuring pregame and halftime entertainment and highlights. Ebersol has called Bowlen the father of Sunday Night Football.
Bowlen also pushed to expand the NFL’s footprint abroad. The Broncos have played eight international games in six different countries. The NFL regularly now stages regular-season games in London and Mexico City.
In the end, Bowlen’s argument goes back to the field. The Broncos became must-watch TV during his reign. They rank tied with the New England Patriots with 322 regular-season wins since 1984. When the Broncos won their third Super Bowl two years ago, general manager John Elway put it simply, “This one’s for Pat.”
Eventually, there will be a yellow jacket for Bowlen. But Friday brought only more frustration.