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 Ring of Famer Rod Smith, who played the entirety of his 12-year career in Denver. Smith went from an undrafted receiver to the Broncos' franchise leader in nearly every receiving category — and he has made it clear Bowlen played a large part in his and the team's success.
Now, Smith describes, in his own words, why Bowlen deserves to take the next step and be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"I was retired for about a year and I was out at camp watching practice and this little guy taps me on the shoulder and tells me that Mr. Bowlen wants to see me in his office. And so, I immediately freak out. I wonder, 'OK, what did I do wrong? I haven't said anything to the media. I haven't done anything wrong as far as I know.' So I am walking, it's like going into the principal's office, and I'm scared and I go upstairs and his secretary says, 'Yeah, Pat's waiting for you in his office in his conference room.' And I say, 'OK, OK,' and I am nervous the whole time and I walk in and he goes, 'Hey, Rod, what's happening? How're you doing?' I relax and I sigh and we talked for about 45 minutes and we were talking about life. We were talking about his kids, we were talking about my kids and he's talking about my time as a Denver Bronco, the stuff I like and the different things like this. I was sharing stories about how he influenced me from afar, because I am a business man — not at the level he is — but I love business, and I would literally watch the moves that he would make that I could see, and started breaking things down like that to him and the crazy part was, he would tell me not just about games, but about situations, plays that I was involved in and most of that stuff I didn't remember.
"So that let me know, to Pat Bowlen and his family, I wasn't just an employee, I was a person. I had feelings. I was like a part of his family. If you notice how this organization runs, it's like family."
"… From a guy who gets undrafted and plays in this organization for 14 years, I am always welcome at any event. Any time that they need anything, they know that they can call Rod, and Rod is going to do it, because of the impact that they have had on my life.
"… When you're young and coming into an organization, you're just trying to make the football team. You don't get to have interaction with the executive team, so to speak. You're dealing with the coaches and the trainer. And I remember Mr. B allowing [former head coach Mike] Shanahan to let everyone on the team have their own room before a game. And you're probably like, 'What does that have to do with anything?' But to me, the reason that was so crucial was, he recognized that everyone gets ready for the game different and he wanted them to have their own space, their own sanctuary to get ready for the game. And, [it was] little stuff like that I started noticing about Mr. B. He was always a personable guy. … He wanted you to treat him honestly, like he was one of the guys.
"Think about it: You had 100 people going to a game. You got 50 some players — [and] every player had to have their own room or we wouldn't even rent the hotel. Every player had to have their own room and that part was really important. You look at all those facilities that the Broncos have right now, all of those facilities are things that he [wanted]. Even some of it now, he hasn't even seen, but it was his vision that we have the number one facility in sports — not just the NFL, but all of sports.
"When the Hall of Fame nomination [news] came out and he was on there, I was super excited. … [For] every guy who went into the Hall of Fame, he threw parties and celebrated them. And when we won — AFC Championships and big victories — he is down on the field and he's hugging everybody and he is high-fiving and doing all of this stuff and literally it is a game, so we are all like kids again. And he just poured into everybody and celebrated and I can remember after games, he's down there and this game ball goes to this guy and this game ball goes to this guy and this game ball goes to this guy and this coach, [and he says,] 'Hey, matter of fact, everybody gets a game ball.'
"I can remember so many moments when that happened — and now, it's time to do it for him. The thing that's heart[breaking] for me is that he won't be there when we're doing it for him, because he was always there for everybody. There was no expense that he wouldn't bear to make sure that everybody felt special. … To me it's really bittersweet because he won't be there to enjoy and to know how much we care about him.
"I am looking forward to him going into the Hall of Fame. No one in this organization is more deserving than him, and I am going to embrace it."
Quotes repurposed from Smith's interview for 4 Quarters, a Broncos-produced show that runs on KUSA and KTVD.