Two weeks from Saturday, Pat Bowlen’s seven children will gather in a downtown Atlanta hotel room and wait eagerly for a knock on the door.
Bowlen, the Broncos’ enormously successful owner since 1984, is a virtual lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame after he was at long last nominated as a contributor finalist by a subcommittee in August. All Bowlen needs is a simple “yes” vote from 80 percent of the 48-member HOF committee that will gather on the eve of Super Bowl LIII -- Saturday, Feb. 2 -- to receive election.
It promises to be a rubber-stamp process. Bowlen, who is battling Alzheimer’s, will be represented in Atlanta by his seven children. For a family that has been through its share of trials and tribulations, the Super Bowl LIII weekend in Atlanta figures to be a special time, highlighted by the knock on the door from David Baker, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Baker only approaches the hotel rooms occupied by the elected. Bowlen and Gil Brandt are the two contributor finalists. Johnny Robinson is the senior player finalist. Former Broncos’ Champ Bailey, Steve Atwater and John Lynch are among the 15 modern-era finalists hoping to make their category’s final cut to five.
Bowlen has long deserved to have his bust bronzed for football immortality for two primary reasons. One, his great run as Broncos owner. Two, his impact on growing the NFL from one of the four major sports in this country to far and away its No. 1.
It only takes a quick review of Bowlen’s accomplishments to understand why he’s a cinch for Hall of Fame election.
*The Broncos have as many Super Bowl appearances (7) as losing seasons (7) since Bowlen bought the team in 1984. And there were three Super Bowl titles.
Even if you don’t include the past five seasons when Bowlen stepped aside for health reasons, he has more Super Bowl appearances (6) than losing seasons (5) with two Super Bowl championships.
Ask fans of the Detroit Lions, who have had 24 losing seasons and zero Super Bowl appearances, what they think of Bowlen’s record. Or Chargers fans, who have endured 14 losing seasons against one Super Bowl appearance since 1984. The New York Jets: 16 losing seasons, zero Super Bowl appearances in that span. On it goes.
*New England owner Robert Kraft may have more Super Bowl appearances (9) but he did it with two coaches, Bill Parcells (1) and Bill Belichick (8).
Bowlen reached Super Bowls with four different head coaches: Dan Reeves, Mike Shanahan, John Fox and Gary Kubiak. It’s true Bowlen didn’t hire Kubiak as head coach, but he did hire Joe Ellis and John Elway, who hired Kubiak.
Bowlen left the Broncos in great shape when he turned over control of the team to Ellis and Elway.
*Bowlen treasured Broncos fans.
“This is their team,” Bowlen said as he looked out his window at the crowded berm during a 2013 training camp interview with me and the Denver Post. “It’s not my team. I think if you manage your club well, the fans appreciate that.”
The Broncos have the best home record in the NFL during Bowlen’s ownership, going 214-86 for a remarkable .714 winning percentage. Talk about paying back the fans. The Broncos have sold out every home game during Bowlen’s ownership, a streak that currently sits at an NFL-best 403 consecutive games, counting playoffs.
*He was the only NFL owner who reached 300 wins within 30 years and he was the fastest to 350 wins. His Broncos have averaged better than 10 wins a season.
*On the league level, Bowlen was the lead owner during the NFL’s mind-blowing growth period from the late-1980s through the free agent/salary cap/TV revenue explosion in the 1990s.
Bowlen’s work as TV chairman alone is worthy of Hall of Fame induction. In 1994, he ushered in the Fox network, which helped push the league’s broadcast revenues to another galaxy. And former NBC sports chairman Dick Ebersol called Bowlen the “Father of Sunday Night Football,’’ the television program on 9News that is the No. 1 watched show pretty much every week since 2006.
*Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Bowlen was the only owner who had a major role in the four key areas of the league’s growth through the 1980s and 90s – television revenue, labor peace, stadium construction and international growth.
Bowlen was the owner that player union boss Gene Upshaw trusted the most when the league periodically negotiated its collective bargaining agreements.
When Broncos Stadium at Mile High was approved for funding by local taxpayers in 1998 and opened in 2001, it began a three-year period when eight new NFL stadiums were built.
Bowlen also volunteered the Broncos to play eight international games in six countries.
*The Broncos have made more national television appearances (355) than any other NFL team in the 35 seasons since Bowlen became owner.
Bowlen truly built the Broncos into America’s Team, a distinction a Harris Poll formally recognized in 2014.
If all this doesn’t get a knock on the Bowlen family’s hotel door two weeks from now, then somebody is going to have to help David Baker find the right door.
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