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 begin with Ring of Famer Steve Atwater, who played for Bowlen’s Broncos from 1989-98 and now works as a Fan Development Manager for the organization. Atwater joined President/CEO Joe Ellis in August to deliver the news to Bowlen that he had been named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Atwater describes, in his own words, why Bowlen deserves to take the next step and be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Being able to play for Mr. Bowlen, [there was] a comfort that I felt seeing him around the building, interacting with the players. He never put himself above the players, although we all knew he was at the top of the food chain. He made everybody feel real comfortable, and for me and a lot of guys on our team, you’d go out and you would run through a wall for him.
“He was so approachable and just wanted what was best for the football team. There was no selfishness in Mr. Bowlen at all. The way that he tried to run the Broncos organization, I’ve tried to take on some of those traits in the type of person I wanted to be. He was a heck of a role model. Great leader of his family. He loves his family dearly and just a great leader.
“We could just focus on football. There weren’t distractions. … We had confidence in our coaches that they had the best game plans drawn up for us, Greek and the training staff — we felt like they were the best. … All we had to do was go out and give it 110 percent on the football field. I think that was a huge part of us being able to win those back to back championships. Just having Mr. Bowlen around, who listened.
“He always knew what was going on with every part of the team: personnel, players, coaching. He knew everything that was going on. And of course, [you can’t forget] his contribution to the NFL, “Sunday Night Football,” trying to increase the reach of the game. He was just vital to all of that. Him not being in the Hall of Fame is definitely a disservice to the game and to the NFL.
“He put his mark on everyone in the building. John Elway and Joe Ellis, they know Mr. Bowlen inside and out. They know his wishes. They know exactly how they want things done. They’ve done an admirable job of trying to keep everything the way it was exactly when Mr. Bowlen was here. Now we just need the wins to go with that.
“It meant the world to me that Joe invited me to be a part of that special moment [to tell Mr. Bowlen he’d been chosen as a Contributor finalist]. When I see him, I almost always tear up, just wishing that he could really, fully understand everything that’s going on now — and that he could enjoy people celebrating him, because he was always the one celebrating everyone else and putting them up on a pedestal. I wish he could enjoy us putting him up on a pedestal now.
“I have thought about [him being elected.] It would be simply amazing. I think that the NFL would not be the same without him. If they don’t induct him, it wouldn’t be right. I think the owners across the league, they know what Mr. Bowlen contributed to the game of football. And of course everyone here in Broncos Country knows. I’m looking forward to the announcement day and being excited about that and then him putting on that gold jacket and being finally recognized for all of his contributions to the game, to the state of Colorado. It’s the ultimate recognition for anyone in the NFL to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I can think of no one more deserving than Mr. Bowlen.”