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Pat Bowlen, Champ Bailey elected into Hall of Fame

Broncos owner Bowlen and star cornerback Bailey are the sixth and seventh Broncos to get the nod for enshrinement. Atwater, Lynch receive disappointing news.

ATLANTA – For the first time in Broncos' history, there were TWO knocks on hotel doors.

Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker knocked on the hotel room door occupied by the family of beloved Broncos owner Pat Bowlen on Saturday, signaling his election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Former Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey received the same knock.

“I wish he was here so I can embrace him and we can talk a little trash together,'' Bailey said with a chuckle in an interview with 9News. "As much as he loved to do that. It means everything. Back in '04 when I got to the Broncos who knew that we would both have a chance to go to the Hall of Fame together? And here we are.’’

Former Broncos safeties Steve Atwater and John Lynch were not elected. 

Atwater made the first-round cut from 15 to 10 finalists, but he didn't get inside the top 5 for election. Still, Atwater picked up momentum for next year's vote. Boulder native Tony Boselli, a left tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars, also made the cut from 15 to 10. Lynch, a six-time finalist, was eliminated in the first cut.

Lynch was inside the top 10 in both 2016 and 2017, but his momentum seems to be slipping.

Bowlen and Bailey join quarterback John Elway, left tackle Gary Zimmerman, running backs Floyd Little and Terrell Davis and tight end Shannon Sharpe in the Hall of Fame.

"Great day for the Broncos,'' said Broncos' chief executive officer Joe Ellis, who attended the Hall of Fame press conference. "Great day for Pat and Bowlen family. Great day for Champ and all his family.''

It was universally agreed Bailey would be a Hall of Famer at some point, but he was hoping to go in on the first ballot, as did two of his mentors, Deion Sanders and Darrell Green.

"Champ is a first-ballot Hall of Famer,'' Sanders said as he brought up the rear of the NFL Honors red-carpet stroll Saturday. "There's no question about that.''

Not anymore, although there was for a while. 9News talked to multiple voters who were inside the room who said one of the most fervent debates was between Bailey and Ty Law.

Bailey had 12 Pro Bowls to Law's five. Only Merlin Olsen (14), Ray Lewis (13) and Reggie (White (13) had more Pro Bowl appearances than Bailey among NFL defensive players. Those three were elected into the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. And now so was Champ.

Bailey went to eight Pro Bowls in his 10 seasons with the Broncos. He had the best back-to-back cornerbacks seasons in the past 37 seasons when he had 19 interceptions combined in 2005-06.

But Law was part of three Super Bowl title teams and had one more career interception (53) than Bailey (52). 

It turns out both cornerbacks made it. 

“I was pretty sure that I should get in,'' Bailey said. "It’s rare that two cornerbacks to get in. I don’t know if that’s ever happened. Ty Law deserves to be here and I’m glad he’s in there in my class.’’ 

Champ always did study his competition. It was indeed the first time in NFL history that two cornerbacks were elected in the Hall of Fame in the same year. Champ is also the Broncos' first defensive player who was elected. This doesn't include Willie Brown or Brian Dawkins who played most of their careers with other teams. Or Law for that matter. Law played seven games for the Broncos in 2009.

But Champ shall be referred to as the first Denver defender to make it.

“Well, I’d like to say I represent all those guys,'' Bailey said. "The Orange Crush defense, there’s about three or four of those guys who should be in there. I just want all the Broncos fans to know I represent those guys.''

Bowlen, 74, is in his Denver-area home with his wife Annabel as both are battling Alzheimer’s disease. What would Pat Bowlen's reaction have been upon learning he was a Hall of Famer?

“I know what he would say,'' Ellis said. "He would say why isn’t (Randy) Gradishar in? And why is (Karl) Mecklenburg not in and why is Atwater not in? And why isn’t Tom Nalen in? And why isn’t Rod Smith in? And we need more Broncos players in there because the players are the thing. That’s how he felt about it. He loved the  players and they loved him back.’’

Six of Pat's seven children -- Amie, Beth, Patrick III, Brittany, Annabel and Christianna were here inside a downtown Hyatt hotel room when Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker knocked on their door at precisely 2:18 p.m. MST time to deliver the news their father had been selected for football immortality.

"When there was a knock on the door, everyone just screamed,'' said Beth Bowlen Wallace, one of Pat Bowlen's five daughters who attended the event. "I think it was the first time David Baker ever heard a room full of women scream at the knock on the door.'' 

The formal induction into the Hall of Fame for the class of 2019 -- Bowlen and Bailey, Ed Reed, Tony Gonzalez, Kevin Mawae, Ty Law, Gil Brandt (contributor like Bowlen) and Johnny Robinson (senior candidate, safety) -- will take place August 3 in Canton, Ohio.

Bowlen earned his Hall of Fame nod because of his success during his 35 years as the Broncos’ owner and his deep contributions to the league.

With the Broncos, Bowlen was the first owner to reach 300 wins within 30 seasons. Even when including the Broncos’ past two subpar seasons, his Broncos have as many Super Bowl appearances (7) as losing seasons (7).

He is the only NFL owner to have gone to the Super Bowl with four different head coaches (Dan Reeves, Mike Shanahan, John Fox, Gary Kubiak).

There were also three Super Bowl titles (1997, 1998 and 2015) and his Broncos overall winning percentage of .596 (9.54 wins a year) is tied for fourth among the 122 teams in American professional sports, trailing only the New England Patriots and NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers.

Credit: Getty Images
KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 25: Owner Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos watches player warm-ups prior to the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

When Bowlen’s Broncos won their first Super Bowlen following the 1997 season, what did he do when he received the Lombardi Trophy and was in the brightest spotlight of his life? He immediately got out of the way by proclaiming, “This … One’s … For … John!” and handed over the trophy to quarterback John Elway.

Bowlen grew the game on a national scope as he ushered in the league’s leadership transition from old guard owners Art Modell, Lamar Hunt and the Moras and Rooneys to a new generation in the 1980s when he and Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones began to expand the NFL’s revenue growth.

Bowlen led the negotiations for the league’s $18 billion TV contract in 1998 that was by far the most lucrative media-rights contract in professional sports. Former NBC chairman Dick Ebersol called Bowlen the “Father of Sunday Night Football,” which has been America’s No. 1-rated show by far since 2006.

Bowlen also negotiated the league’s collective bargaining agreement with players’ union boss Gene Upshaw in 2006, had his team play eight international games in the 1980s and 90s, and was at the forefront of the league’s new stadium construction when now-named Broncos Stadium at Mile High School opened in 2001.

Pat Dennis Bowlen knew how to negotiate --  – he and his siblings bought 60.8 percent of the team from Edgar Kaiser Jr. for $51 million in 1984. A year later, the Bowlens bought the other 39.2 percent from minority partners John Adams and Timothy Borden for $20 million. The Broncos are now valued at more than $2.5 billion.

Pat Bowlen stated in his trust he would like one of his children to one day succeed him as the Broncos’ principal owner.

Credit: Getty Images
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 02: Cornerback Champ Bailey #24 of the Denver Broncos reacts in the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

With both Bowlen and Bailey getting elected, there is a good chance the Broncos will play in the Hall of Fame preseason game on August 1. Baker said there's still a chance Kansas City (with Tony Gonzalez and Johnny Robinson getting elected) could play Atlanta in the game -- the league never wants two division rivals to play a preseason game against each other.

But the Broncos are all but counting on opening the league's preseason schedule with a game in Canton.

"I have a heavy hunch we’ll be coming to training camp an extra week early and playing in that game with two representatives being elected today,'' Ellis said. "And usually when an owner gets elected you’re asked to play in the game. I’m expecting that.’’ 

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