CANTON, Ohio — Denver owner Pat Bowlen and former Dallas executive Gil Brandt were chosen Thursday as the Hall-of-Fame’s two contributor nominees for the Class of 2019.
Both had been among the favorites entering the voting, with each among the top finishers the past two years. Now, each must be approved by the Hall’s entire board of selectors, a 48-person body that meets on Feb. 2, the day prior to Super Bowl LIII.
“Wow,” said Broncos’ president and CEO Joe Ellis when told the news. “Some moment for him, for his family and for everybody in Broncos’ country. It’s overwhelming news, and this is very, very exciting.”
When Ellis took the call from the Hall, he was standing outside of Bowlen’s Denver home, along with former Broncos’ safety Steve Atwater. Bowlen, whom Atwater later notified, has been suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s and officially relinquished control of the team in 2014 to Ellis, who was elevated to the team’s CEO.
Nevertheless, by that time Bowlen had made an impact … and a significant impact … on the NFL.
During his tenure as owner of the Broncos, the team has had a sustained record of success — with more Super Bowl appearances (7) in his 34 years of ownership than losing seasons (6). And while much of that can be attributed to having one Hall-of-Fame quarterback (John Elway) and another who will join him soon in Canton (Peyton Manning), it doesn’t happen over three decades without steady, strong and shrewd guidance at the top.
In and of itself, however, winning might not have been enough to clinch a Hall-of-Fame bust for Bowlen. But combined with his participation in a myriad of league matters — most importantly, as head of the broadcast committee and his involvement in labor negotiations– it put Bowlen over the top.
“I once was asked to describe Pat Bowlen in one word,” said TV executive Dick Ebersol, an ardent Bowlen supporter, “and I said, ‘I can’t.’ I can describe him in two: League man.”
Bowlen sat on 15 league committees, more than any owner in NFL history outside of Dan Rooney (18) and Lamar Hunt (16).
Bowlen is the third owner to be nominated in the five years of the contributor committee, joining Eddie DeBartolo (49ers) and Jerry Jones (Cowboys), both of whom were inducted. But he’s unique in that he’s the only NFL owner to reach the Super Bowl with four different head coaches.
If Bowlen is also elected, he becomes the third AFC West owner to reach Canton, following Lamar Hunt (Chiefs) and Al Davis (Raiders).
“(This means) a lot more than I think people outside our region realize,” Ellis said of Bowlen’s nomination. “This town and this team have grown up together. This region and this team have grown up together. We have incredibly passionate and emotionally invested fans that are incredibly loyal. And they are very, very grateful for everything that Pat Bowlen has done to make the National Football League what it is today and to make the Denver Broncos a successful franchise during his tenure as owner.
“This is a great, great day for Denver and the Rocky Mountain region. And I can assure you that the outpouring of extraordinary support and enthusiasm towards this nomination will be as great as it could be anywhere.”
The former VP of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-89, Brandt is the team’s second contributor to be nominated in the past two years — with owner Jerry Jones one of two contributor choices in 2016.
Brandt, who has worked with NFL.com since 1995, gained a reputation as an innovator in scouting, primarily through the use of computer technology and personnel systems that became the template for others throughout the league. Together with Hall-of-Famers Tom Landry and Tex Schramm, Brandt helped build the Cowboys into one of the league’s most successful franchises, with Dallas so wildly popular that it became known as “America’s Team.”
“Gil revolutionized scouting,” said one former GM. “He made it a science.”
That wasn’t lost on the contributor committee’s selectors who spent six hours — along with consultants Bill Polian and Carl Peterson (neither of whom had votes) — sifting through 10 nominees before finally deciding upon Brandt and Bowlen, with Brandt notified by phone as he returned home from a Cowboys’ practice.
“I might drive off the highway,” he said. “I’m excited. I’m lost for words, and that doesn’t happen very often. This is, without question, one of the greatest things that has happened to me in my life.”
To be elected, Brandt and Bowlen must gain support from 80 percent of the 48 selectors at the February meeting. At that time, the Hall will consider 18 finalists — including Bowlen, Brandt and one senior (Johnny Robinson) and 15 modern-era candidates.