ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Inside the Broncos $42 million training facility, one mural explains the franchise's excellence.
It features a picture of owner Pat Bowlen with his words, "I want us to be number one at everything."
For 34 years, Bowlen has been one of the most successful owners in pro sports. His teams have advanced to seven Super Bowls, won three, and suffered just six losing seasons. The Broncos have never fallen under .500 in back-to-year campaigns under Bowlen's watch.
Given his team's superiority and his significant contributions in broadcasting agreements, and expanding the game globally, it should come as no surprise that the Pro Football Hall of Fame subcommittee finally named Bowlen a finalist as a contributor on Thursday along with the Dallas Cowboys' Gil Brandt.
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) August 23, 2018
It leaves Bowlen with one final hurdle to clear for immortality. The committee will reconvene at the Super Bowl and present Bowlen to the full cast of 48 voters on Feb. 2. Typically, finalists receive the stamp of approval, and it is anticipated Bowlen will.
To be elected to the Hall of Fame, Bowlen must receive the same 80 percent voting support by the entire 48-member Selection Committee on “Selection Saturday."
Bowlen cut a wide swath, leaving a significant footprint in TV, stadium construction, international games and labor relations before stepping away fulltime before the 2014 season because of his ongoing battle with Alzheimer's disease. Bowlen turned the Broncos into an AFC powerhouse. He stood out because he stood in the background, a driving force with a heart in a sport short on sympathy and compassion.
The Bowlen family issued a statement on Bowlen’s nomination through the Broncos.
“This is an exciting day for our family and the Broncos fans who have been so supportive of Pat Bowlen for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“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. We’re thankful to the contributor committee for recognizing the incredible impact Pat’s had on the NFL.
“As we look forward to the final vote, our family also congratulates Gil Brandt on his well-deserved nomination.”
“He loved his players. Loved them,” Broncos president Joe Ellis told Denver7.
In a statement Thursday after Bowlen's nomination, he said he was "thrilled."
“We’re absolutely thrilled for Pat and the entire Bowlen family. There’s no question that Pat elevated the NFL, the Broncos and our region over the last three decades,” Ellis said in the statement. “He’s always had such modesty and humility, but he’s incredibly deserving of this selection and we appreciate the contributor committee nominating him. It’s very special to see Pat take such a significant step toward the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker called Ellis with the news about Bowlen Thursday. Ellis was outside Bowlen’s home with famed former Broncos safety Steve Atwater.
His on-field success is unprecedented.
His contributions to the league are immeasurable.
But most importantly, Pat Bowlen’s ownership has always been and will always be first class.#PFHOF19 pic.twitter.com/ZiolS4m6cT
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) August 23, 2018
The honor, for many, is long overdue. The Broncos have had trouble gaining the Hall of Fame's signature of approval over the years. Bowlen's induction would help articulate the franchise's amazing three-decade run.
“I know this: The bottom line with Pat was winning,” said Hall of Famer and Broncos general manager John Elway.
Elway tweeted Thursday after the announcement: "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. I can't wait for the day Pat's bust joins the Broncos family in the @ProFootballHOF!"
Bowlen was one of the first owners to relate to players on a personal level. He took their input, worked out beside them, and participated in their Saturday college football pick'em contest (he always chose Oklahoma to win). He provided his players with every resource to win, from adding coaches to extra seats on the plane for leg room.
“He has meant everything to me,” said Ring of Fame wide receiver Rod Smith, a star on the 1997 and 1998 Super Bowl teams, which ended a 14-year streak of dominance by NFC franchises. “Here’s a guy who didn’t want any fanfare. As the union rep, I saw all the stuff he did. As a business man, I watched how he delegated and let people do their jobs. He’s one of the best owners ever because he doesn’t look for the camera.”
What separated Bowlen is that his fierce competitiveness knew boundaries. Where the Yankees’ late George Steinbrenner might scream from his owner’s box during a game or fire an employee on Christmas Day, or the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones might star in commercials, Bowlen shunned the spotlight and never lost his temper.
“Never at one point, not one time, did he come to me and tell me to get a guy on the field. He would gather information and trust us. He was a special guy,” said longtime trainer Steve Antonopulos. “You know, for me, the thing that shows Pat’s character is that even when we won the first Super Bowl, he said it was for John (Elway). It wasn’t about him. It was more important for him to acknowledge what it meant for John, for the team and the fans.”
One of the crowning jewels of Bowlen's run came on the national level. Bowlen helped turned Sunday night into a prime-time event with his work on the league’s broadcast committee.
“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. 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),” NBC broadcaster Al Michaels said a few years back. ” ‘Sunday Night’ has about a 50 percent larger audience than ‘Monday Night’ does, and you can attribute that to Pat’s vision and the fact that he figured, ‘Hey, if we can make our big game Sunday night with a flexible schedule and that would be the best way to maximize the value of the NFL on TV.’ “
He applied pressure of expectations without belittling anyone. He wanted excellence, but not at the expense of a relationship.
"When you are playing, you kind of think all owners are the same. Then you realize the more you talk with people and get removed from the game, that it’s just not the case. As players we all felt like he did everything to help us win,” said Hall of Famer Terrell Davis. “You could feel it, you could tell how much it meant to him. And we felt badly if we didn’t win. We didn’t want to let him down.”
One step is cleared. One rung remains for Bowlen to reach the Hall of Fame.