KUSA – Based on a 9News straw poll, it’s safe for Blair Buswell to start forming the foundation on Pat Bowlen’s bronze bust.
And while Champ Bailey shouldn’t jinx his election by sitting down to pose for the bust sculpting Buswell before Saturday’s vote, there is a strong chance the former Broncos’ cornerback will join his former owner in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2019.
9News polled 10 of the Hall of Fame’s 48 voters to get an idea on what to expect for the four Broncos who are among the 18 finalists. Bailey and safeties Steve Atwater and John Lynch are among the 15 modern-era finalists with no more than five eventually selected for the Hall of Fame on the eve of Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
Dave Birkett, of the Detroit Free Press, represented the consensus view of his colleagues by summing up this year’s class of 15 modern-era finalists.
“I would think there are two locks this years: Tony Gonzalez and Ed Reed," Birkett said. “I would think Champ Bailey is probably No. 3 on the list. I think he probably does get in, but he’s just below a slam dunk is how I would put it."
Bowlen, the Broncos’ owner since 1984, is one of two “contributor” finalists, along with former Dallas Cowboys’ scouting boss Gil Brandt. Former Kansas City Chiefs safety Johnny Robinson is the senior committee finalist.
Bowlen got 10 out of 10 votes from the 9News poll.
“Pat Bowlen is a lock," said John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
“He’s five years overdue," said Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com and WKNR radio. “I don’t know why it’s taken this long. Of all the contributing owners to come down the pike since this new category, he’s the strongest candidate I’ve seen."
But while the majority of voters say Atwater and Lynch are Hall of Famers and will be elected at some point, the competition to make the final cut from 15 to 5 is so fierce, our poll suggests the safeties may have to stay patient for another year.
After Gonzalez, Reed and likely Bailey, there figures to be a push to get one of four offensive line finalists elected. Tony Boselli, who grew up in Boulder, Alan Faneca, Kevin Mawae and Steve Hutchinson all made the cut from 15 to 10 finalists last year before they all fell short of the elected five.
That could well leave one spot available for the other eight finalists: Receiver Isaac Bruce, running back Edgerrin James, defensive end Richard Seymour, coaches Don Coryell and Tom Flores, Atwater, Lynch and Law.
Here’s a look at what 9News learned from its poll about the Broncos’ four Hall of Fame finalists:
While the 15 modern-era finalists must first survive a cutdown vote from 15 to 10, then 10 to 5, then receive 80 percent “yes” votes for election, Bowlen, Brandt and Robinson go straight to the final 80 percent “yes” requirement.
For the most part, it’s a rubber-stamp process, because the 48-person voting body respects the work the contributor and senior subcommittees put forth in coming up with their nominees.
There was an exception two years ago when former commissioner Paul Tagliabue received too many “no” votes and wasn’t elected as a contributor. Tagliabue’s problem was his faith in NFL medical advisor Elliot Pellman, who too often dismissed the severity of concussions and football’s relationship with brain injuries.
There is no such controversy with Bowlen as all 10 voters polled said they would give the nod to the Broncos’ owner.
“For the most part if the (contributor) committee recommends him, then I’ll support the committee," said one voter. “And I think I’ll do that here. They’re the ones that have done the heavy lifting. They have vetted the guy."
Among the finalists, only the tight end Gonzalez has more Pro Bowl appearances with 14 than Bailey’s 12. The safety Reed had 9 Pro Bowls, but the reason he’s considered a greater lock for HOF election is he had more interceptions than Bailey (64 to 52), more defensive touchdown returns (9 to 4) and anchored one more Super Bowl champion teams (1 to 0).
Bailey received four Pro Bowl berths in five seasons with Washington, then registered 8 Pro Bowls in 10 seasons with the Broncos.
“He’s a slam-dunk Hall of Famer," said Dan Pompei of Chicago’s Bleacher Report. “I guess there is some question as to whether or not it will be this year. But I think the chances are very good.”
The only reason why Bailey may not be considered a first-ballot cinch is because there may be sentiment for New England cornerback Ty Law, who is a finalist for a third time. Law made the cut from 15 to 10 last year.
But entering the vote Saturday in Atlanta, Bailey will be a favorite.
“I think when everybody looks at what Champ Bailey did for two organizations, he’ll go in on the first ballot,’’ McClain said. “My personal opinion is there are three locks on the modern ballot.’’
Steve Atwater and John Lynch
What’s working against these two is Reed, who is also a safety. Reed is going in and so is Robinson as a senior candidate. That’s two safeties and there are so many other top players at other positions to consider.
And if there should be room for a third safety, which one, Atwater or Lynch?
“I think Atwater is special,’’ said one voter. “He changed the game a little bit, with his size and the way he played. Unfortunately, this is not like baseball where you can point to a number and say he should be in. It’s talking to people and making a judgment. I think Atwater helped to define the position.’’
That was one view. But others side with Lynch, who is a top 15 finalist for a sixth consecutive year. He made it inside the top 10 in both 2016 and 2017 but fell back to the bottom five among finalist voting last year.
“I think Lynch is a little bit ahead (of Atwater) in the pecking order," said another voter. “Because he was in Tampa, too, there’s a little bit more of a pull. He’s been on the ballot a little bit longer. I think he probably has to wait but he probably makes that final 10. After those top three it’s very up for grabs. Maybe an offensive lineman goes in because there’s a logjam there."
To summarize the 9News poll, the Broncos and their fans can realistically expect their Hall of Fame group to expand by 40 percent, with Bowlen for sure and Bailey in all likelihood joining John Elway, Gary Zimmerman, Floyd Little, Shannon Sharpe and Terrell Davis.