The Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony has come and gone, with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones leading the way with a 39-minute speech.
And while every inductee’s tale and back story was inspirational and compelling, many fans in attendance – particularly the ones donning orange jerseys — were left wondering what it would ever take to get Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen into the Hall.
Jones, who edged out both ex-commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Bowlen for the vote via the Contributor’s category, certainly deserves his spot in the Hall. That’s without question. But for the Broncos fans in attendance, many were a bit jaded when Jones was being announced to the rabid crowd. The heavy pro-Cowboys contingent was fierce and loud for their team’s owner, but that didn’t stop those in the pro-Bowlen camp to be heard as well.
When Jones was initially announced, there were pockets of people who screamed out, “Pat Bowlen!” To Bowlen supporters – and Jones dissenters – it didn’t seem right that the larger-than-life Jones was enshrined ahead of Bowlen. Of course, Jones is the bigger name across the National Football League landscape, as opposed to Bowlen, who took pleasure in running the Broncos from the shadows. But not many NFL owners, including Jones, have the kind of sustained greatness and longevity of success that Bowlen has had as the Broncos’ owner – and that’s not even taking into account his stewardship behind the scenes as a negotiator for the NFL and its multiple television deals.
Simply put, the NFL cannot tell its story without Bowlen, who has his fingerprints all over the NFL.
The splits for each owner’s accomplishments are striking. Both have been instrumental in the financial growth of the game – Jones is a trusted aid for relocated franchises and was a key figure in getting the Fox Network on board to carry National Football Conference games, while Bowlen was the chairman of both the Television Committee and the Labor Committee. He was also a staunch supporter of international games, a great voice in any bargaining strife between the league and the players’ union, and is also considered one of the pioneers and founding fathers of primetime football, specifically “Sunday Night Football” and the birth of the NFL Network.
Both aforementioned entities are financial boons to the league, ratings and advertising wise.
And the financial health of the league is greatly owed to both owners.
But it’s as pure football owners where Bowlen’s case stands out more. Since Jones took over the Cowboys in 1989, the team is just 243-205 – and much of that success came early. Bowlen, meanwhile, since taking over in 1984, has steered a franchise with more Super Bowl appearances (seven) than losing seasons (five). Denver leads the NFL with a .614 win-percentage since Bowlen purchased the team from Edgar Kaiser.
Bowlen’s Broncos lead in playoff appearances (18-13), playoff wins (21-14), average wins per season (10.4 to 9.3), division titles (13-9), regular-season wins (322-243), and Super Bowl appearances (seven to three). Denver also has fewer losing seasons to Dallas in that same span, five to nine.
Owners set the tone. And no professional sports franchise is ever successful in their respective field of play with shaky ownership. Bowlen is the first NFL owner to have his team win 300 games in his first 30 years of ownership.
Count inductee and former Broncos great Terrell Davis as a definite pro-Bowlen guy. Davis made one request as he wrapped up his speech – get “Mr. B” into the Hall. And hopefully not posthumously like the Hall shamefully waited on quarterback Ken Stabler.
“A few weeks from now, the Hall of Fame selection committee will be voting on a contributor category. Let’s make sure he [Bowlen] is enshrined in 2018,” Davis said of the cherished team owner who is currently suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Two contributors were voted in for 2017 and 2019, while only one will be selected in 2018 and from 2020 on, so the clock is ticking.
Bowlen still technically owns the Broncos (which is now managed via trust), but was in the shadows even before he was stricken. His health has reportedly turned for the worst over the last few years, so many in Broncos Country are waiting with bated breath on the next round of votes.