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As a contributor, no one offered more than Pat Bowlen

Pat Bowlen is in exclusive company.

It's not merely about becoming the 28th member of the Broncos Ring of Fame -- which, by the way, he created in 1984 with the first class of Austin "Goose" Gonsoulin, Rich "Tombstone" Jackson, Floyd Little and Lionel Taylor.

It's about earning that place as a contributor to the Broncos and to the NFL at large.

The Ring is primarily the domain of players -- and, last year, a coach, Dan Reeves. Just one other contributor is in the Ring of Fame: former owner Gerald Phipps, who merely saved the team for Denver, helping prevent a move to Atlanta in the 1960s.

Think for a moment of what Denver might be without the Broncos, and you can understand Phipps' profound meaning to the club and the region at large.

And then consider what the Broncos might be without Bowlen, who is the fastest owner to 300 wins, set the tone for a franchise that became a perennial contender, and in 31 seasons has made the playoffs more often than not, a distinction just six other teams can claim.

Broncos fans expect the best from their team, and it's because Bowlen expected the same -- as he often said, "Be No. 1 in everything" -- and then provided the resources and support to make it happen.

Writing checks and providing the financial wherewithal for success was just the beginning; Bowlen delivered unyielding emotional and moral support. Wins, playoff appearances, AFC championships and Super Bowl rings were just the beginning of what he means to the organization and in shaping the culture of Broncos Country.

Few players know this better than 2003 Ring of Fame inductee Gary Zimmerman.

"I played for a different team (Minnesota) where I saw a different aspect of ownership. So I thought I was just a number," Zimmerman said earlier this year. "When I came to the Broncos, I couldn't believe when I saw Mr. Bowlen down in the locker room. I saw him putting turkeys in lockers at Thanksgiving."

That sight remained with Zimmerman through five seasons as a Bronco to his Super Bowl XXXII win, his retirement and, in 2008, his selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When Zimmerman became the second man enshrined in Canton for his accomplishments as a Bronco, he needed to choose a presenter. He tapped Bowlen, and it was an easy call.

For Zimmerman and countless others, Bowlen wasn't just the boss. He is the man that changed how they perceived life in the NFL.

"Everybody in the organization was treated like a human being," Zimmerman said. "It kind of felt like a family. I wanted to win ballgames for him. He took a chance on me. I was damaged goods. Nobody wanted me for a while. He took a chance with me.

"I just have loyalty to him. He treated me right. He treated everybody right. He brings everybody back, and he's generous. The whole family's generous. He's generous to the community. He's created, in my opinion, probably one of the best pro organizations in all of sports."

And beyond that, he helped propel the NFL's ascent from successful professional sport to American cultural touchstone. He served on nine league committees, most prominently the Broadcast Committee, of which he was chair from 2001-06.

"In my opinion, Pat Bowlen is one of the greatest contributors in the history of professional football -- not just the Denver Broncos," Executive Vice President/General Manager John Elway said.

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"Contributor" is the key word. To describe Bowlen as just an "owner" is to shortchange what he meant to the organization -- and to the business of the league.

It's why the Ring of Fame selection, profound as it may be, could be just the beginning of his football immortality.

"I congratulate Pat on his election to the Broncos Ring of Fame and look forward to the day he is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame," Elway said.

That is a distinction he deserves and has earned -- just like his place in the Ring of Fame, his name on the facade of the 500 level at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and the statue that sits at the south entrance to the stadium.

But they're more than just unique honors for a one-of-a-kind contributor. They're the best way for a club, a region, a legion of fans -- and, yes, the league itself -- to say, "Thank you; job well done."

No one could have done it better.

MORE ON BOWLEN'S LEGACY:

A look at Owner Pat Bowlen's 34 years with the Broncos.

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