During Pat Bowlen’s 35 years as the owner of the Denver Broncos, he has left his mark on the team, the Denver area and the larger NFL community. The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Contributors Committee recognized his remarkable accomplishments — which include a winning legacy and immeasurable contributions to the league’s growth — by selecting him as a finalist for the Class of 2019. As the final vote approaches, DenverBroncos.com will speak with a number of people who have seen firsthand Pat Bowlen’s impact on the Broncos and the NFL.
We continue with NBC Sports’ Peter King, who has covered the NFL for decades and is a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter. King was in the room in August when the Contributors Committee named Bowlen as one of this year’s two nominees to be Hall of Fame finalists, and King will be among the voters who elect this year’s class on Feb. 2.
King describes, in his own words, why Bowlen is a deserving candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I think there were people on that [Contributors Committee] who wanted him there [in a] previous year and were surprised he wasn’t one of the picks in a previous year. … I don’t think anybody ever thought over the last few years that he didn’t belong, I just think there were some people who thought that others were more deserving. And so, I believe at this point, as we sit here right now in anticipation of the vote next month, I think there’s a lot of people who feel very strongly [and] very pro-Pat Bowlen. … I had a strong feeling a couple years ago that it was going to happen, I just didn’t know when.
“I think his [impact on the NFL] is probably in three or four different ways. … You want to talk about owners as people who have great impact on the league and all this other stuff. That has been debated over the years: What’s more important for a Hall of Fame owner? What he does with his own team? What he does with the league? I’ve always thought that — no question — the most important thing that an owner can do — and again, I’m not saying forget what you do inside the league — but what I am saying is, vastly more important than anything else is what you do with your franchise, with your team.
“The Denver Broncos under Pat Bowlen have become a jewel franchise of the NFL, and not just because they have won an incredible number of games and quite literally have not been bad — consistently bad — in basically almost all of our lifetimes. That’s due to, in my opinion, the system that Pat Bowlen put in place. And obviously he hasn’t owned the franchise forever, but ever since he bought the team, he put a system in place where he hired people and he let them do their jobs.
“I sort of draw a line of demarcation to the signing of Peyton Manning. You can talk about the two Super Bowls at the end of the ‘90s, but what I think is so significant and so telling about Pat Bowlen is that for that period of time, he handed the reins to Mike Shananan and he said, Win. Build a team that Denver’s going to be proud of and that wins.And Mike Shanahan did. The last major act that [Bowlen] did essentially [was] he and Joe Ellis put John Elway in place and John Elway went out and won Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning did enough — along with a lot of help — but he did enough to win another Super Bowl for the Bowlen franchise. That cannot be overlooked. Pat Bowlen handed John Elway the reins when there were going to be a lot of people in the NFL who are saying, We’re not handing the football operations of our team to a guy who’s been a Hall of Fame quarterback, but we have no idea if this guy can pick players.But he did it, and I believe fervently that Peyton Manning would not have gone to the Denver Broncos without John Elway being there and John Elway basically saying, Peyton, I know what it takes. Don’t worry, we’re going to put it all in place for you. That wasn’t in place at the other teams he was looking at, quite honestly. That, to me, just says everything about the way Pat Bowlen operated.
“One of the reasons Mike Shanahan loved being the coach of this team is that he knew that it was all on him. He wasn’t going to have a lot of interference. It was going to be up to him. And if one day, he wasn’t doing a great job, he was going to be gone. And he knew the realistic way that the system was going to work. So I think, first of all, that is what Pat Bowlen did so well.
“But there are two other things. First, is television. One of the most brilliant people, I believe, who has ever done television in America — sports television — is Dick Ebersol. And he would swear on 58 bibles right now that “Sunday Night Football” may eventually have existed, but it was Pat Bowlen who basically made “Sunday Night Football” happen back in 2006. Without Pat Bowlen, it would not have happened. I think he was realistic and very driven to make sure that the television product that the NFL put out was on the highest level possible.
“And then finally, I think in terms of league business, he doesn’t get much credit for this — and I don’t know for sure that there will be an international franchise, but I feel at some point within the next six-to-eight years, there probably is going to be a team in London — [but] there’s not one owner in the league who cared more about international football. Well, I’ll have him tied with the late Lamar Hunt in Kansas City. Those two guys thought that football would be a great world sport. And we’ll see if they’re proven right. … When they put tickets on sale for the Titans and the Chargers, a game that would have trouble selling out in Nashville or LA, it sold out — five months before the game — in three days. So it’s just another example of the vision that I think Pat Bowlen had that football could work internationally and should be allowed to work internationally.
“I’m always the worst one when it comes to forecasting what happens in that [Pro Football Hall of Fame selection] room. Every year, when I walk in the room at 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning — it’ll be in Atlanta, Feb. 2 — I’m always the worst one. I always take a little pen, and I just mark off the guys who I think, This is going to be the class. I’ve never, ever gotten it totally right. I’ve come close, but most often, I get it wrong. And very often, I might get half or more wrong. I’d just say I would be surprised if he were not elected. I hate to get into the prediction business, but I would be surprised if he was not elected.”