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A trainer, PR boss and receiver react to Bowlen's HOF nomination

For 30 years as an active owner, Bowlen, who should now be little more than rubber-stamp approval away from having his bust bronzed in Canton, started his day by checking in with Antonopulos about his team's injured players.
Credit: USA TODAY Sports
Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen celebrates on after defeating the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl XXXIII at Dolphin Stadium on Jan. 31, 1999.

LINTHICUM HEIGHTS, Md. – It was somewhere over Indiana when the Broncos learned their owner had been nominated as a contributor finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Thank goodness for spotty Internet service on airplanes.

Upon landing and arriving at the Broncos’ team hotel here, where they are to get a good night’s sleep before playing Washington in a preseason game Friday night (5:30 p.m. kickoff, with a half-hour pregame show and game shown on Channel 20), 9NEWS sat down with trainer Steve “Greek” Antonopulos, the Broncos’ employee who knew Bowlen the longest, public relations boss Patrick Smyth, who pushed harder than any other to get Bowlen in position to nab the nomination from a Hall of Fame subcommittee, and receiver Demaryius Thomas, who as a first-round draft pick in 2010, is the current player who played for Bowlen the longest.

For 30 years as an active owner, Bowlen, who should now be little more than rubber-stamp approval away from having his bust bronzed in Canton, started his day by checking in with Antonopulos about his team’s injured players.

“It became a regular thing every day," Antonopulos said. “I thought it was kind of odd when it first started but I figured out pretty quick, man, he cared about people. Most of all his players. He loved his players, he loved being around his players. He’d do anything he could for his players.’’

Of all the significant accomplishments Smyth spewed on Mr. B’s behalf in recent years – the first owner to reach 300 wins in 30 years; the incredible seven Super Bowl appearances against six losing seasons feat – the PR expert had one more little-known twist that could catapult Bowlen to centerpiece position among the 14 other owners who sit in the Hall of Fame bust room.

“I think the unique thing about Mr. Bowlen is he was the only owner in pro football history to have four different head coaches appear in Super Bowls,’’ Smyth said. “Dan Reeves, Mike Shanahan, John Fox and most recently Gary Kubiak. And he gave them every possible resource to be successful. He set the tone. The old cliché it starts at the top -- and that’s never been more true than it was with Mr. Bowlen.’’

Thomas admits he never really got to know Bowlen, who stepped away from his usual day-to-day responsibilities in 2011. Still, Thomas says Bowlen’s presence is still very much felt on a regular basis at the team’s headquarters.

“He’s one of the reasons why I’m a Denver Bronco,’’ Thomas said. “I actually have conversations with the family. An amazing, beautiful family. The reason I strap up is for this organization, Mr. B and the guys I do it with.’’

So, who was Pat Bowlen? Even when he was very much active as the Broncos’ owner, his shy, reticent nature made it difficult for anyone outside his circle get to know him.

“He was a humble man, proud man,’’ Antonopulos said. “He didn’t want to be in the limelight. Of course, he had an air about him. We all do, but it was a special air. It was just unbelievable how he cared about people.’’

That’s Bowlen the man. Bowlen the owner?

“It didn’t take him long to make a decision,’’ Antonopulos said. “He analyzed things quick, he made a decision and stuck to it.’’

Seven Super Bowl appearances, six losing seasons. Ask fans from Detroit, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Oakland if they’d take that kind of run over the past 34 years.

There is little doubt Pat Bowlen will receive final vote approval on Feb. 2 in Atlanta to become the 15th owner elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.