ATLANTA — For weeks, those closest to Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen said it would mean a great deal to him if he could be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame alongside one of his former players.
On Saturday, that presumed hope was realized as Bowlen was selected for the Hall of Fame's Class of 2019 alongside former Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey.
Bowlen and Bailey join Kevin Mawae, Ty Law, Ed Reed, Tony Gonzalez, Johnny Robinson and Gil Brandt to comprise the Class of 2019.
Bowlen was nominated in August as a Contributor, while Bailey became the franchise's first defensive player to be elected into the Hall. Bailey joins John Elway as the only Broncos to become first-ballot Hall of Famers.
The Broncos now have seven members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as Bowlen and Bailey join Elway, Gary Zimmerman, Floyd Little, Shannon Sharpe and Terrell Davis in Canton.
Bowlen joined those ranks after three-plus decades of contributions to the NFL and the Broncos.
At the league level, Bowlen was instrumental in procuring TV deals and increasing the international reach for the growing league. Bowlen also served a combined 91 seasons on 15 different NFL committees.
His success with the Broncos, meanwhile, is nearly unmatched in the NFL, as the Broncos have as many Super Bowl appearances (seven) as losing seasons under Bowlen's tenure. He became the first owner to record 300 overall wins in his first 30 years, and the Broncos have notched the fourth-highest winning percentage among all American professional sports teams under Bowlen's leadership.
And in a talented class of Modern-Era finalists, Bailey stood out.
Bailey tallied 12 Pro Bowls in his career — the most in history by a cornerback — and recorded 10 interceptions in 2006. He joins Reed and Gonzalez as members of this year's class who gained entry to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.
"I actually played with two first-ballot Hall of Famers in [Washington], and it's a must that I follow in their footsteps," Bailey said Friday before he learned he had been elected. "The only problem now is that I have no control. Everything I had control over has been done five year ago and before that. It would mean a lot, I'm not going to dwell on it either way. I'm just going to enjoy the process."
While Bailey and Bowlen gained election, two former Broncos must wait at least one more year to reach the Hall of Fame.
Steve Atwater (two-time finalist) and John Lynch (six-time finalist) were among the 10 Modern-Era finalists who were not selected.
There should be hope for both men, though: Since 1970, nearly 90 percent of finalists have eventually gained election into the Hall, per the Hall of Fame.
Saturday, though, was about Bowlen and Bailey, who are the newest electees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The process is not yet complete — the two men will be enshrined in Canton in August — but after years of waiting, they have cleared the last hurdle.
Pat Bowlen and Champ Bailey are Pro Football Hall of Famers.