When Pro Football Hall of Fame voters convene in Atlanta early next month to select the Class of 2019, former Pro Football Writers of America president Alex Marvez will be in attendance to cast his vote. Marvez, who currently hosts a show on SiriusXM NFL Radio, and his fellow voters must decide between 15 Modern-Era finalists, two Contributor Committee finalists and one Senior Committee finalists. And when they do, Marvez will be well-versed with the careers of several of the finalists with Broncos ties. Marvez covered the Broncos during their Super Bowl runs in the late 1990s, which gives him a unique perspective on candidates like Owner Pat Bowlen and safety Steve Atwater.
DenverBroncos.com caught up with Marvez ahead of the vote to ask about Bowlen, Atwater and a couple of other Broncos who could earn election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Aric DiLalla: What is the process like when you get in the [voting] room on Feb. 2? What do you go through when you first get in the room?
Alex Marvez: “The first thing I do is a lot of homework before I even step in the room. You need to be prepared and not just show up. It’s almost like showing up on the day of the test and trying to pass. You owe it to the respect of Pro Football Hall of Fame and to the voting process to do a lot of research before, talk to the contemporaries of the people who are involved, do your reading, understand their impact — especially on those folks you might not be as familiar with. For example, in my case, I never saw [Senior Committee finalist] Johnny Robinson play. So [I] try to do the best I can to try to research those types of things.
“And when you go into the meeting room itself, I think one of the keys is to have an open mind. Don’t go in there and say, ‘No matter what happens, I’m voting for these five Modern-Era finalists, I’m voting for these Contributors and this former player.’ I don’t think that’s fair either, because it diminishes what we’re trying to accomplish when 48 of us get together in a room to break down these players. And have questions. If there’s something you’re unfamiliar with or [there’s] a concern you have about a player — for example, if you think, ‘Why did this happen? Why in this career did he have two bad years? Why did he get traded?’ Those types of things, if you have a question, try to get it answered if it’s going to affect the way you vote, rather than just assume you know the answer.
“I think those are the things you do going into the room, and then there’s healthy debate on most of the finalists. And when I say most, there are some that are going to take less time than others. There are obviously guys who are going to be first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famers. I don’t want to speak for my contemporaries, but [former tight end] Tony Gonzalez, I can’t imagine having an hour of conversation about him like we did about [Cowboys owner] Jerry Jones the year that Jerry went in, because Tony’s resume is pretty spotless, right? He’s one of those most prolific tight ends in the history of the NFL. It would seem that he’s going to be a first-ballot inductee.
“We have time restraints ourselves during this meeting, so what I think we need to get done is make sure we dedicate enough time to discussing candidates who are going to generate quite a bit of discussion. I think [former Seahawks and Raiders coach] Tom Flores is one of those candidates this year. He’s never been in the room before. The newer guys generate a lot of conversation, and some of the more controversial players like a [former wide receiver] Terrell Owens, even though he’s been presented, he too generated conversation, because the presenter brings in some new material into the room, and it triggers more debate and you learn more and more about some candidates as the years go by and the presentation of the candidate evolves. I think that’s some of the things that go into it as you approach the meeting. The old Boy Scouts motto of ‘Be Prepared.’"
AD: You mentioned Tony Gonzalez as a guy who could be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Champ Bailey will also be in the room for the first time. Where would you put his odds as we approach the selection?
AM: “Really high. And I’ll just expand it to three here. I really believe that we may end up with three first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famers, because Ed Reed’s resume is unbelievable in terms of productivity, interceptions, impact on the game. Champ Bailey played in 12 Pro Bowls? I mean, he was the quintessential cornerback of his generation. He was a team leader. He did everything right on the field. They tell us not to judge things off the field, but his record was impeccable there, as well. He was just an incredibly gifted player who could’ve excelled in any era and will be regarded as one of the very best to play the position. I think the odds are pretty darn high that he’s going to get in. And if I’m correct about Tony Gonzalez and Ed Reed being first-ballot Hall of Famers, as well, that puts voters in a really tough spot, because we’re going to have only two spots open for the 12 remaining Modern-Era finalists. And that’s where the battle royale, so to speak, will begin.”
AD: From your time covering the Broncos, what are your recollections of Steve Atwater, and what do you think of his chances in a crowded safety group?
AM: “I know, it’s so tough. And one of the things — and I hope voters don’t feel this way — are there going to be some [voters], and I’m asking this rhetorically, who say, ‘Well, we already have one safety going in. We only want one safety. We don’t want one safety, because we’ll have one wide receiver and one offensive lineman and one other position … one tight end.’ For voters that do it like that, it’s going to be really tough if Ed Reed ends up getting the first-ballot induction like so many of us believe is going to happen. With Steve, he was a sledgehammer on defense. He set the tempo for what Denver was doing even before I started covering the team for the “Rocky Mountain News.” We’re still talking to this day about his hit on Christian Okoye as one of the most devastating plays in the history of the NFL. That speaks volume about Steve Atwater. You think about when he wiped out three guys, including two of his teammates I think, in the final minute of Super Bowl XXXII to help preserve the victory for the Broncos. That was a play that we’re never going to forget.
“He was a model of consistency, he played through injuries. It didn’t matter. He just set the tempo for a defense that was pretty darn good. And when I was covering the Broncos, I always wrote about him as future Hall of Fame safety Steve Atwater. I really believed that. I was young. I didn’t feel though that I was being out of turn, because I just thought I was seeing real greatness for a guy who just brought so much to the game, so much to his team. But again, are there going to be three safeties going in? Are we pitting John Lynch against Steve Atwater? Is that how some voters are going to look at it, that they would vote for one or the other? Again, that’s where it starts being messy.
“We had a logjam — seven or eight years ago by now — with three wide receivers who were drawing equal numbers of votes, it appeared: Cris Carter, Andre Reed and Tim Brown. It was almost like they were nullifying each other. Finally, Cris got in, and that opened the door up for the other wide receivers. Because at that point, then, the logjam was broken, and you just started systematically to vote these guys in. That’s what I think may have to happen with Steve at some point. But the more a guy gets into the room — into the room is how we like to describe it as voters — when you’re there year after year, you get to a point and you say, ‘Yeah, it’s their time.’ And sometimes voters [just] have that feel. Maybe it was like that with Charles Haley. He had been nominated multiple times, but ultimately it was like, ‘OK, this is his year. This is his time. It just feels right.’ I don’t know how to describe it to outsiders, but there just seems to be a vibe sometimes in the room that a guy — I don’t want to say has paid his dues in the room — but he’s been there long enough that you realize it is time for them to get the honor of being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“And we’ll see if this is the case for Steve, but the great news for him — and I know it’s not great for him [to hear] — but the fact that he’s even getting into the room now on an annual basis is just humongous, because it means at least you have a shot of getting in. If you fall out of the room, it’s hard to get back in, because every year rolls around and there’s more great players that are up for consideration. The fact that we’re talking about Steve Atwater, whose final NFL season was in 1999, and here we are 20 years later and he’s in the room? I just think that speaks pretty well about his chances of ultimately getting in.”
AD: [Ring of Fame safety] John Lynch is another guy who has been in the room a lot. Do you think he’ll eventually make it into the Hall of Fame?
AM: “I believe so, and when it comes to Cover 2 safeties, there was nobody better than John Lynch. What’s interesting, too — and I don’t know if this is fact — but are he and Ronde Barber cancelling each other out? Because Ronde was such a fantastic corner, but are you going to vote for two members of that Bucs secondary? Do you go with the best corner who’s ever played in the Tampa 2 or the best safety who’s ever played in the Tampa 2? So that’s what I think is so tricky about it. We know that Warren Sapp is in, we know that Derrick Brooks is in, but how many members of this defense are going to go in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? I think there’s something to be said for that, as well. It was an outstanding defense, but it won one Super Bowl and played in one Super Bowl. Are we going to canonize every single person on that defense? And some people split hairs. They say, ‘Sapp and Brooks, they’re the reason that the guys in the secondary excelled.’ And, ‘Oh, they just had great coaching with [Tony] Dungy and Monte Kiffin.’ And all those things configure into it. But John Lynch is worthy. He’s in the room. We’re talking about him. But again, you’ve got Atwater supporters, you’ve got Ronde Barber supporters, you’ve got Ed Reed supporters. Can John Lynch overcome all of that to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year? We’ll see.”
AD: Owner Pat Bowlen is in the room as a finalist after several years of consideration from the Contributors Committee. How do you view his impact on the NFL, and do you expect him to be elected come Feb. 2?
AM: “I expect him to be elected, and I think a big boost to his candidacy — and this is not to slight Pat Bowlen in the least, because I do believe he’s Hall of Fame worthy as an owner based upon the success of the Broncos and his contributions to the league — but for some voters, it is a lot easier to vote for an owner as a contributor than it is as a Modern-Era finalist.
“And I say that because there are some people who say, ‘Look, he owned the team. What else did he do?’ I hate to say it like that, but these [players] are the guys who actually put in the work out there on the field and were grinding while Pat was just trying to make money to support the team. He was never a general manager. He never did anything from an X-and-O standpoint — but he hired good people. And he knew to get out of the way of a lot of things. A lot of the big problems we see with NFL ownership is that a lot of owners try to get involved. It’s their toy, right? And they want to play with it. So they do things like, they may get involved in a personnel decision. They’ll get involved in hiring the head coach, those types of things. Things that may circumvent the general manager and break up the proper food chain [of] the way a franchise should be run. With Pat Bowlen, [there were] very clear lines of demarcation [of] who was running the team. It went from Dan Reeves to Wade Phillips and then to Mike Shanahan. And Mike was the perfect guy for Pat Bowlen. Pat gave Mike every tool that he needed to be able to build a Super Bowl winner, and there’s something to be said for that. The way he managed things: He was able to get a new stadium built working with the city officials in Denver. That’s not always an easy thing, and he was able to get funding to make that happen.
“I think everyone really felt, too, that Pat Bowlen truly loved the Denver Broncos. You never worried about that team moving anywhere else. He was fully committed to the city of Denver and just made a tremendous impact during his time there. And I do believe he did enough from a league standpoint that it should be considered a strength. He worked on television committees, he was a resource for the NFL commissioners like [Paul] Tagliabue and [Roger] Goodell. When you saw the meetings that took place in the labor negotiations with the most recent negotiation of the CBA, Pat Bowlen was a part of it. He was a part of the committees. They wanted to hear his voice, because he had been around as an owner. And obviously, the Broncos’ standard of success — which I know the team has fallen on a little bit of hard times as of late. But to not have two losing seasons in a row as a franchise since the early 1970s speaks volumes as well about Pat’s stewardship of the team.
“I think it’s his time. I’m glad that he got that chance, that opportunity, while he’s still with us. And hopefully it provides some happiness for him and his family if he’s able to get in.”