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Measuring the Bowlen Era

Posted Nov 10, 2013

Independent analyst Andrew Mason looks at the impact Broncos Owner and CEO Pat Bowlen has made in his 30 years of ownership.

SAN DIEGO -- Three hundred is a milestone number. Few owners linger long enough to see their teams win that many games. And if the Broncos were a break-even franchise under Pat Bowlen's watch, this occasion would have been 37 and a half years in the making.

They made it in less than 30.

You know about the high points: world championships, Hall of Fame-caliber players, "The Drive," "The Drive II," 15 playoff appearances. But sometimes the best way is to measure what happened on the other side.

The last 30 years have not been without a few bumps, particularly just before John Fox and John Elway arrived. The Broncos missed the playoffs for five consecutive years in that span, which was highly unusual; prior to that, they'd never spent more than two seasons away from the playoffs.

But in those five seasons, the Broncos still averaged more than seven wins a year. In three of those years, they went into the final week of the season with a chance at the playoffs. And this was the low point of Bowlen's years.

There are many metrics to measuring success, but one crucial method is by asking this: when the team is down -- as is inevitable in the NFL's salary-cap-centric, parity-driven system -- how down does it get? Some clubs hit the bottom of the Pacific, and stay there for years.

When the Broncos struggled, they treaded water most of the time. They've had just one season at 4-12 or worse; only Pittsburgh has avoided this, and the average team has had four such seasons. And when the Broncos did hit that bottom, the organization was retooled, and they were back in their familiar playoff spot 12 months later. Less than two years after that, the Broncos won 17 consecutive regular-season games.

The efforts of many go into making this sort of turnaround happen. But nothing succeeds without the steady hand at the top, putting those people in position to succeed. From Dan Reeves to Mike Shanahan to John Fox, and to others beyond them, Bowlen has been the constant.

Win No. 300 won't be the last. But it is an unforgettable milestone, and just one of the many other numbers accomplished by the Broncos' players and staff under his watch that help illuminate the success of Bowlen's years.

284: Regular-season wins under Bowlen, the second-most in the NFL in that span and the most in the AFC.

123: Pro Bowl selections by the Broncos in the last 30 years. Denver has had at least one Pro Bowler every season.

100: Number of AFC offensive, defensive and special-teams players of the week. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was the latest addition to this list after earning defensive honors for his 75-yard pick-six in Week 8.

41: Stadiums in which the Broncos have won during Bowlen's tenure, the latest being AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Broncos hope to add stadium No. 42 to that list next month when they visit Houston; the Broncos lost their only regular-season game at Reliant Stadium in 2007, although they have won in the preseason.

29: Playoff games, more than all but four other teams since 1984 and nearly five times as many as the Broncos played in their first 24 seasons of existence. Also the number of first-team All-Pros the Broncos have had.

26: 1,000-yard receivers in the Bowlen era. The Broncos have had at least one 1,000-yard receiver all but one season since 2004 and all but two seasons since 1994.

19: Starting quarterbacks, ranging from John Elway (256 career starts, including playoffs) to Jarious Jackson and Bill Musgrave (one start apiece -- coincidentally, both were at Green Bay's Lambeau Field).

17: Winning seasons in the Bowlen era, most in the AFC West.

16: 1,000-yard rushing seasons by Broncos running backs since 1984.

7: Head coaches, with Jack Del Rio the latest -- and now, victorious -- addition to the collection.

5: AFC Championships, a total exceeded only by the Patriots' 7. It's also the number of losing seasons endured by the Broncos in Bowlen's 30 seasons of stewardship, which is significant because it's the fewest in the NFL since 1984 -- and also because Broncos were below .500 14 times in their first 24 seasons.

3: Colors of home jerseys worn under Bowlen's watch: navy blue, orange, and for a 2003 game against San Diego, white.

2: Home stadiums, and world championships.

1: As in first place in the AFC West, which the Broncos have claimed 10 times under Bowlen's watch, more than anyone else. Success usually starts with winning the division, and in the AFC West, the Broncos have been the most adept at this for generations.

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