When former Denver running back Terrell Davis is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 5, expect him to make a push for Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen to join him. Davis has said he’s convinced Bowlen will be in Canton one day. He just doesn’t know when.
And he’s not alone.
Look, we all know Pat Bowlen is qualified for the Hall. He came this close to being one of the two contributor candidates a year ago when voters chose Dallas owner Jerry Jones and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and he was there for good reason: He has a remarkable history of success on and off the playing fields.
Under his direction the past 33 years, the Broncos won 343 games (an average of 10.39 per season), have 21 winning seasons, captured 13 division titles, appeared in seven Super Bowls and nine conference championship games and won three NFL titles. So what? So, since Bowlen bought the team in 1984, Denver has the highest winning percentage (.612) of any NFL franchise, passing the San Francisco 49ers after the 2015 season.
“(Pat’s) management,” said the Cowboys’ Jones, “is able to put the team in place to win championships, but not at the cost of a major slide. That’s the art of the deal right there. How do you position your team year to be in it in and year out, yet at the same time in our system not go completely to the bottom? He has shown us how to do that.”
The evidence is everywhere. No other owner in NFL history has more Super Bowl appearances than Bowlen, and Denver’s 13 division titles since 1984 rank second only to New England. Moreover, the Broncos’ 27 seasons with a .500 or better record in that time easily outdistance the field.
Quick now, name the last team — other than New England — to win back-to-back Super Bowls? If you said the 1997-98 Denver Broncos, go to the head of the class. The Broncos are the only franchise in the past four decades (or since the 1976 Oakland Raiders) to win five consecutive AFC West titles, and they did it on Pat Bowlen’s watch (2011-15).
But as head of the league’s broadcast committee, Bowlen achieved as much … if not more … success, helping to negotiate network rights that in 1993 brought in Fox and NBC as broadcast partners, nearly doubling the TV revenue. Five years later he led negotiations in the NFL’s $18-billion TV deal, the largest single-sport contract in history, and in 2006 Bowlen was … according to former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol … “the single major force in the creation of Sunday Night Football.”
But that’s not all. As a member of nine league committees, he played a key role in the 2006 labor extension that kept the peace in the NFL, advocated for the creation of the “franchise tag” that allows team to protect key players and was a persuasive figure in the growth of international play and stadium construction throughout the league.
“Pat might have been the only owner who had a major role in every one of those four areas (TV revenue, labor peace, international play and stadium construction),” said Tagliabue. “I worked with over 100 owners. I would put Pat in the top five.
“When we had tough issues, I would tell (former NFL Players Association executive director) Gene Upshaw, ‘Go talk to Pat Bowlen,’ and he’d say,’Why Bowlen?’ And I’d say, ‘Because he’s realistic. If he says it, you can take it to the bank that it’s something we, as a league, are willing to stand by.”
OK, so Pat Bowlen is qualified for selection to the Hall and, in all likelihood, on the contributor committee’s short list when it meets in late August. In fact, some people in and around the Denver area, outraged that Bowlen is not already in Canton, insist that he is … or should be … “a lock” as a contributor candidate for 2018.
But I wouldn’t be so sure, and here’s why: There’s only one contributor candidate for 2018, and the competition is keen. Former GM Bobby Beathard, oh-so-close in past years, is one candidate. Former Dallas personnel chief Gil Brandt is another. So is Art McNally, the former head of officiating and the father of instant replay, as well as former GM and league executive George Young, former player and team executive Bucko Kilroy and New England owner Robert Kraft.
But here’s another reason to be cautious: Of the first four contributors enshrined in Canton, two have been owners — Jones and former San Francisco boss Eddie DeBartolo Jr. A third straight year with an owner, as one of Hall of Famer put it, makes the contributor category “look more like the owners’ category, and that wasn’t the idea when it was created.”
That doesn’t mean it can’t … or won’t … happen. It just means that Terrell Davis was right. Pat Bowlen will get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It may not be this year, but it will be soon. And for all the right reasons.