ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee meets on Feb. 2 to choose the electees for the Class of 2019, Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis hopes the Broncos receive plenty of good news.
Ellis, who spoke to a small group following new Head Coach Vic Fangio’s introductory press conference on Thursday, said he’s hopeful Owner Pat Bowlen and at least one of three former Broncos players up for election are chosen to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
“Now we need to get a few of them in,” Ellis said. “It'd be nice to have one additional winner, besides Mr. B, who I do think will get in, rightfully so. Pat always had a soft spot in his heart for all of these players that played while he was here. [Ring of Fame safety] Steve Atwater was one of his favorite players. [Former CB] Champ [Bailey] was definitely one of his favorite players. Both performed admirably for him. So, I'd love to see one, if not both [get elected]. Steve works for us now and he's around a lot. He's just a terrific person and our kids are kind of the same age and see each other from time to time at social settings and stuff. Just a big fan of his, his wife, his family. Champ was really a terrific professional when he was here. [Ring of Famer safety John] Lynch, all that John did for us, he is certainly a deserving candidate. So, we may not go four-for-four, but we better not [go] for one-for-four.”
Bowlen is one of two Contributor Committee nominees — Gil Brandt is the other — and both can be elected to this year’s class.
The Broncos’ success under Bowlen’s leadership — the team has the same number of Super Bowl appearances (7) as losing seasons — and Bowlen’s pivotal role in NFL broadcasting negotiations comprise just part of his candidacy. Asked Thursday about Bowlen’s contributions to the league, Ellis pointed to his far-reaching impact on the league.
“He came in and did what [former NFL Commissioner] Pete Rozelle instructed him to do, which was sit back, listen and learn for three to five years,” Ellis said. “And then, engage yourself in some committee work. … There was a group of owners, and he was a ringleader in getting [former NFL Commissioner] Paul Tagliabue in as the next commissioner. The league's success, and its popularity and its growth exploded from that point on. I don't think Paul ever gets enough credit for that. And part of Paul's kitchen cabinet, one of his direct members was Pat Bowlen. Paul had him on international committees, management council, broadcast — the key person on broadcast, for many years. The FOX deal that came out in . It had always been CBS, NBC up to that time. I think it kind of revolutionized how the NFL was viewed from that point on, on a screen, on a television, digital platforms and everything else. And Pat was a pioneer in that area. I think it was probably his most important work.”
“… I was at the league office at the time, before I came back over here for Pat. Those accomplishments were so critical for the league. And it continued, right up until the point where he couldn't do it anymore. He was a member of the Hall of Fame committee — I don't think people knew that. He was a big advocate for growing the presence of the Hall of Fame — getting more Broncos into the Hall of Fame. He couldn't be on the committee and really accomplish that, because you know how the rules are, but he was an important member of the league in so many different areas. That carried from all of his years with Paul Tagliabue. Early with Rozelle, then up with Paul. And now through with [Commissioner of the NFL] Roger Goodell as well, who he was very close with.”
Bailey, Atwater and Lynch, meanwhile, are among 15 Modern-Era finalists. Five men from that 15-person group will be chosen for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
Ellis said Atwater — who earned eight Pro Bowl nods, was a two-time first-team All-Pro and was named to the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team — built a strong bond with Bowlen while in Denver.
“I just think he was a terrific player on the field, and a terrific ambassador off the field,” Ellis said. “And one of the most positive guys I've ever been around. This is a hard business, it's very hard for players. When he was a player, I was only here for a few years, the last two years when he won the Super Bowl. Actually, only the last year. … But he was just a true professional and he had such a positive attitude, day in and day out. He was very gracious to Mr. B and that kind of positivity, Pat really respected and enjoyed. And they had a really special relationship.”
Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro, also endeared himself to fans and the organization.
“He had a lot of the same personality traits that Pat had,” Ellis said. “He was very humble and very quiet, and even a little bit shy. He was a very confident guy, very confident player. ... But he never drew attention to himself. That was especially true of all of the stuff he did off the field. He did so much stuff for this team away from the field and nobody knew about it. In fact, you had to dig hard to find out about it. That's the kind of guy he was. I thought that was a pretty special character trait on his part.”
Ellis and the Broncos have just a few more weeks to wait before they find out if Bowlen will be inducted into the Hall of Fame — and if Bailey, Atwater or Lynch will join him.
Ellis, though, has thought ahead to what that moment may be like.
“I think it'll be special,” Ellis said. “And for all that he's done for everyone here — myself included — I think it'll be a neat moment. It'll be fun to see the family share in that, because they've missed not only their father for who he was before he got ill, but also, him not being around the Broncos and being involved with the Broncos. I know that has to be a very tough thing for every member of the family. To not have their dad here every day, like he was, in charge. I certainly understand that, and so I think to some degree, this moment — it'll be all about him. And rightfully so. It'll carry through, I really believe.
“As I said, he will get elected and that will be a great moment that will carry through all of the way into his induction. I guess that would be August, early August. It'll be a tremendous celebration. It'll be a memorable for everybody, and especially the family.”