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Pat Bowlen Hall of Fame Snub Continues The Denver Broncos Drought

Pat Bowlen is the latest causality for the Denver Broncos at the hands of the Hall of Fame after being snubbed for induction this week. Join Analyst Khalid Alshami to find out what it all means and why it might not matter.

The Denver Broncos have won three Super Bowls in the past 20 years and have been to four. In that time period, the team has had a total of three losing seasons. For their efforts, the Broncos have a grand total of six Hall of Famers, two of which only played a few seasons in Denver and were inducted for their work elsewhere.

That leaves four players who have been inducted to the Hall of Fame as members of the Broncos. The east coast bias is something that has been well known for years—Denver just isn't a big enough town or football hub for Canton.

From 1986 through 1998, the team went to five Super Bowls, winning two. In that time, the Broncos had a total of two losing seasons. The numbers speak for themselves, but for some reason the Hall of Fame nominations and inductions haven't followed.

In comparison, the Buffalo Bills who infamously went to four straight Super Bowls in the early 90's while losing them all, are represented with eight individuals in the Hall of Fame from those Super Bowl-losing teams alone. In contrast, The Broncos have three members inducted from their back-to-back championship teams. Denver even went to three more Super Bowls in four years, losing all three, but that team is not represented in the Hall in the manner Buffalo is.

This is not to say that the Bills inductees were not deserving, because they assuredly were, but it is clear that the Broncos have been bypassed again and again and unjustifiably so. Terrell Davis, Steve Atwater, Randy Gradishar, Karl Mecklenburg, John LynchRod Smith and now owner Pat Bowlen are just a few Broncos who have been overlooked in the Hall of Fame selection process. 

Davis waits for his gold jacket, while players like Jerome Bettis are inducted. Mecklenburg played in the NFL at the same time as Howie Long did, a HOF inductee who had five more career sacks than Mecklenburg. Mecklenburg was a Firstst Team All-Pro four times and played in three Super Bowls.

Long was a First Team All Pro three times, played in and won one Super Bowl and was also Defensive Player of the Year once. Smith is a player who has barely received consideration, despite having better career numbers than Michael Irvin, a HOF shoe-in. These Broncos have had careers worthy of Hall of Fame recognition, but it would seem that playing in Denver has held their candidacy back.

This brings us to our latest causality, Bowlen. Pat Bowlen has been fighting Alzheimer's disease the past few years, resulting in a step back from the Broncos. In over 30 years as the owner of the Broncos, the team has enjoyed unprecedented success, with five losing seasons against seven Super Bowl appearances, to go along with the best winning percentage in the league since purchasing the team.

In that time, Bowlen has been hailed as one of the best owners in the league and as the father of Sunday Night Football. Without Bowlen at the helm in Denver, the landscape of the NFL would look very different than it currently does.

Even the two men selected as finalists over him, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, have made the case for Bowlen in the past. “Pat once told me: My full-time job is for this franchise at the league level,’’ Jones said in the August, 2014. “For me to do the best job for Denver is to do the best job for the league. No one spent more time, no one in ownership spent more time on league matters than Pat Bowlen.

“When you talk about league and you talk about contribution during these critical years and how we have evolved from where we were in television and how we were in stadium … Pat Bowlen spent that kind of time. That was not at the exclusion of Pat spending time leading the Broncos.

“I do distinguish an owner that did change the course. Pat changed the course.”

“There were four areas where the league was really transformed in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s,” Tagliabue said, referring to television, marketing the game globally and new stadiums. “Pat was the only owner who was heavily involved in all four areas.”

When Bowlen bought the Broncos in 1983, then Commissioner Pete Rozelle told him to keep his mouth shut for three to five years, to study the landscape and the political machinations. He followed that advice. Asked how many other owners listened to Rozelle, his successor, Tagliabue, said, “Let’s say Pat was in the minority.”

Until it came time to elect Rozelle’s replacement. The old guard wanted Jim Finks. But not Bowlen. And not Jones. The two became part of the group later known as the “Chicago 11” that pushed Tagliabue into office in 1989.

“We weren’t in step with the establishment,” Jones said. “What I’d sense with Pat was a progressive, forward-looking, forward-thinking owner. I wanted to be teammates.”

Jump to 1993. The country had just come through a recession. The NFL told its TV partners that it couldn’t give them a break on their contracts, which ran though 1993, but the league did offer to give them an extra year for the same price as the rights cost in ’93.

“We all shook hands on it,” said Dick Ebersol, the longtime chairman of NBC Sports. “Only to have these owners come in and say, no deal. They were led by Jerry and Pat. They were seen as Young Turks.”

Bowlen and Jones believed another network would come in and drive up the price. They were right. In came Fox, with a bid of $400 million each season. Jones said he and Bowlen kicked each other under the bargaining table in delight. At the time, Ebersol said, CBS and NBC paid in the low-$200 million range each year, and they lost money on that.

Bowlen made the demand himself: The networks had 24 hours to bid. Ebersol asked his bosses for more cash and they found it. The NFC games went to Fox with the AFC games going to NBC.

“Pat was the guy who fairly said, whoever comes back with the highest bid wins,” Ebersol said. “But he also gave us an extra Super Bowl. That told me he wasn’t interested in crushing us. He just wanted the best deal.”

“It was a watershed day,” Jones said. “It changed NFL history, and the game’s relationship with TV.”

In 2003, Ebersol said the NFL came to NBC and told them ABC wanted out of Monday Night Football. Ebersol wasn’t interested, he didn’t want to lose even one date for The Tonight Show, but he had an alternative idea. He wanted to turn Sunday night into the best window of the week, complete with flex scheduling in the final six weeks of the season, in order to showcase the best games.

In late January 2005, after Ebersol returned to work following a tragic plane crash that saw him lose his son Teddy, Ebersol made his first work phone call. He called Pat Bowlen.

“He heard my voice,” Ebersol said. “I started to cry. He started to cry. And that meant so much to me. Here was this guy who started off as a tough negotiator, icy, almost one of the coldest people I’d dealt with in my life. Here he was melting over the telephone, as was I.”

Eventually, both men caught their breath.

“I have really good news for you,” Bowlen told Ebersol. “I have one convert.” He was talking about Tagliabue. He was talking about Sunday Night Football, now the most watched network television program.

In April 2005, Ebersol’s phone rang. It was Roger Goodell, then Tagliabue’s deputy. “How fast can you get down here?” Goodell said. Ebersol then sat down with Tagliabue, Goodell, Pat Bowlen and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Bowlen had told him it would take $650 million to make SNF viable to the league. “I’m prepared to pay the figure that’s been discussed,” Ebersol told the group. “I’m prepared to spend $600 million.”

He looked at Bowlen, who had a twinkle in his eye but didn’t say a word.

“They should drive him immediately to the Hall of Fame,” Ebersol says now. “It was on his watch that the economic indicator of the NFL, which has always been positive, went into super orbit.”

Knowing the man Bowlen is, he would view the Hall of Fame as an honor he does not deserve. This is the same man who said to team president Joe Ellis, “Now, why the hell would you guys want to do that?” when told he would be inducted into the Ring of Fame.

For him, having his former player, current employee and life long friend, John Elway, stand up in February during the most watched event of the year and do the same thing Bowlen did for him 18 years prior, proclaiming "This one's for Pat!", would more than suffice. That would mean more than the Hall of Fame ever could.

His relationship with the city of Denver was never about him, it was always about his players, his coaches, his staff, the city itself and most importantly the fans, that's how Pat Bowlen has always done it and how he's always wanted it.

Khalid Alshami is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @KhalidHAlshami. And be sure to like MileHighHuddle on Facebook

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Jones, Tagliabue, Ellis and Ebersol all spoke with to discuss Bowlen's impact prior to Super Bowl 50. Content from that story contributed to this story.


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