Worth the wait: Owner Pat Bowlen elected to Hall of Fame, reaches pro football immortality

ATLANTA — At 4:16 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon, five sharp raps came on the door of conference room E on the lower level of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.

For the last 90 minutes, the 17 people inside the room had waited for that knock from Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker.

Some were eager. Some were anxious. But they all wanted to hear whether Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen had earned a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“My heart is up in my throat,” one of his six children who were waiting for the news said of their nerves.

There had been several near false alarms. At one point, caterers in an adjoining room made noises loud enough to grab the attention of those in the room.

But mostly, they found ways to pass time as they waited for their father to achieve pro football immortality.

There was singing — a song by John Denver, one of Bowlen’s favorite artists — and reminiscing about their favorite moments with their father, as well as some guesses as to how he might've reacted to the news. They listened to the Broncos’ executive vice president of public and community relations, Patrick Smyth, as he explained how Bowlen’s election could begin to make up for Denver’s lack of Hall of Famers in relation to other franchises that have achieved similar levels of success.

They peppered him for any information on who was in or out of the Hall of Fame, but there wasn’t much to share. All they could do was wait.

Go inside the Bowlen family's room for the moment when they received the knock on the door from Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker, who told them Pat Bowlen had been elected to the Hall of Fame.

On several occasions, one of the Bowlens approached the conference room door to peer through the crack and look for a sign of Baker.

Baker’s arrival, though, came soon enough.

Before he’d arrived, there had been a plan of how to proceed if there were a knock. Christianna — Bowlen’s youngest daughter — would open the door and greet Baker. Then, after listening to Baker, the family would yell in unison, “This one’s for Pat!”

But in the moment, the people in the room couldn’t help but scream and yell when Baker knocked on the door. And it took a few moments before — through some tears — the family yelled out the line.

Who could blame them?

After 35 years as an owner, Bowlen was at last elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And they celebrated in the best way they could. Although Bowlen couldn’t be in Atlanta for the announcement, his family FaceTimed him in the moments afterward to share the news.

“There were a ton of emotions and it was incredible to be able to experience it together as a family,” his daughter Brittany Bowlen said. “We FaceTimed my dad and he was there with his best friend, my mom and the people that help take care of him. It was surreal to be able to tell him that he was a legend.”

The moments that followed came quickly as the family was whisked to a room with the other Hall of Fame electees and then to the Fox Theatre to be recognized in front of the crowd at NFL Honors.

Brittany and his son Patrick Bowlen Jr. represented the family on stage alongside the other members of the Class of 2019 — and the moment began to feel a bit more real.

At the 2019 NFL Honors show, Broncos players graced the red carpet, Von Miller presented the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, Peyton Manning presented the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award and Champ Bailey and Annabel Bowlen (representing her father, Pat) joined the rest of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2019 for a press conference.

As they approach the enshrinement ceremony in August, that should only continue.

“I think we’ll all shed some tears probably in private,” his daughter Beth Bowlen Wallace said. “We have lots of time to grasp what this honor is because August is months away. We’ll certainly as a family look forward to planning how we’re going to honor our father and his induction.”

Most around the NFL, though, won’t wait until August to honor Bowlen’s contributions.

Former Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who joined Denver in 2012, was one of several former players to express his congratulations.

“Mr. Bowlen was a big reason why I ended up coming to Denver to play for the Broncos,” Manning said. “His legacy of winning is incredible. I am very honored to have played for Pat Bowlen and congratulate his entire family.”

In many ways, that legacy was bettered on Saturday night in Atlanta as Pat Bowlen took a final step into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

For years, he’s been identified by his winning percentage. By his total number of victories. His Super Bowl titles. His NFL contributions. His impact on the NFL community.

But now, he’ll be recognized as something else: a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

It’s an honor that was worth the wait.

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