Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Fouts played the Broncos often during his 15-year career that spanned from 1973-1987. And though Fouts played for one of the Broncos' fiercest rivals in the San Diego Chargers, the quarterback developed a respect for and friendship with Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen. The respect was mutual, and when Fouts retired in 1987, Bowlen made sure to attend Fouts' retirement party. Now, in just over a week, Fouts will vote with 47 other Pro Football Hall of Fame voters on Bowlen's Hall of Fame candidacy. Fouts, now a color commentator for CBS, has also had a front-row seat to watch several Modern-Era finalists with Broncos ties, including Champ Bailey and Steve Atwater.
We caught up with the Hall of Fame quarterback to hear his thoughts on Bowlen's Hall of Fame candidacy, if Bailey could be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and how Atwater left his mark on NFL offenses.
Aric DiLalla: In your eyes, what has Pat Bowlen meant to the NFL? And I've heard that he came to your retirement party. What did that mean to you?
Dan Fouts: "The words that come to my mind when I think of Mr. Bowlen are class and style. The organization that the Broncos have run over the years has just been always first class, and that's because of Pat. For him to come to my retirement was really special for me, just because I'd known him in the past and respected him and we'd had a relationship there that was pretty unique for rival teams."
AD: How do you think his candidacy will be viewed when the voters get together in a few weeks to decide this year's class?
DF: "Well, being one of the voters, normally we don't really discuss the candidacy of the finalists, but I definitely think that Mr. Bowlen is a Hall of Famer."
AD: There are three potential first-ballot Hall of Famers in Champ Bailey, Tony Gonzalez and Ed Reed. Do you see a scenario where he could be voted in right away?
DF: "The fact that anybody's a finalist means they've got a great shot. The process is not an easy one, because it takes about an eight-, nine-hour day for the arguments to happen. Speaking of those three players, I doubt the arguments will take very long."
AD: From your experience calling Denver's games for CBS, what kind of player was Champ?
DF: "You just see a player that quarterbacks are very wary of and wary of throwing in his direction. [He was] such a smart player and athletically gifted and [had] the ability to catch the ball. A lot of defensive backs don't catch the ball that well. He's just a superb athlete."
AD: Steve Atwater will be back in the room this year as a finalist. What sort of challenge did he pose to offenses when he played?
DF: "He was unique in his abilities to play near the line of scrimmage but also in the secondary. [He was] a fierce hitter, well-respected and feared throughout the league. To me, that's a great asset to have and a great thing to put on your resume: that people want to stay away from you."
AD: What is this time of year like for you as you start preparing for this vote?
DF: "You prepare all year round, because a lot of the guys that were finalists last year are finalists again this year. You delve into more of their background, more of their story, more of their stats and look forward to the arguments — pros and cons — for each player and coach. It's a rare honor that James Lofton and I have being members of the Hall and also members of the media."