The Pro Football Hall of Fame will formally welcome its Class of 2019 on Saturday. This week, Yahoo Sports is highlighting memorable moments for each member of the eight-man class, leading up to the big ceremony.
Pat Bowlen, owner/contributor, 1984-2019
The Denver Broncos were on the rise when Pat Bowlen bought the franchise in 1984.
After not making the playoffs for the first 17 years of their existence, the Broncos had been to the postseason in four of the seven years before Bowlen, making it to Super Bowl XII a few seasons earlier.
The Broncos had traded for hotshot quarterback John Elway the year before and had coach Dan Reeves in place, so Bowlen bought a team that on paper looked promising.
Under his stewardship, it flourished.
A bigger, sold-out stadium. Super Bowl appearances in three of four years (though they were losses). Players like Elway, Shannon Sharpe, Karl Mecklenburg, Steve Atwater and Terrell Davis came in and thrived, the foundation of one of the most successful runs enjoyed by a franchise in NFL history.
Bowlen fired Reeves after an 8-8 season in 1992, and after a short stint with Wade Phillips as head coach, Bowlen hired Mike Shanahan, who had been offensive coordinator under Reeves.
‘This one’s for John!’
Shanahan finally got Denver over the hump. In the team’s fifth Super Bowl appearance, in 1997, the Broncos won.
By then, Elway was 37, an eight-time Pro Bowler, a league MVP and full-fledged franchise icon. He’d started every game that year despite suffering a ruptured biceps tendon in his throwing arm during the preseason.
Though it represented the pinnacle of his career in sports (he was an accomplished athlete himself, running multiple marathons and competing in triathlons, including the famed Ironman Triathlon), when Bowlen got his hands on the Lombardi Trophy at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, he lifted it high and exclaimed, “There’s one thing I want to say here tonight and it’s only four words: This one’s for John!”
Years later, Elway remembered Bowlen’s tribute.
“That was Pat. He was never a guy who wanted to be out front,” Elway said. “He gave you the opportunity and wasn’t the guy out there with the ego the size of New York. He was almost shy and would step back and give the glory to everybody else.”
The Broncos won the Super Bowl again the next year, and Elway retired shortly after.
The quarterback returned to the franchise as vice president of football operations in 2011, when the Alzheimer’s disease that would eventually claim Bowlen’s life was in its early stages.
After Super Bowl 50, Elway returned the favor: though Bowlen wasn’t able to travel to the game, when Elway lifted the Lombardi he yelled, “This one’s for Pat!”
‘It was a watershed day’
Off the field, Bowlen was one of the most involved owners in NFL business matters. He worked closely with three commissioners and was a frequent visitor to league headquarters in New York.
He served on 15 different committees, including the powerful broadcast committee. When it was time to re-do television contracts in 1993, he and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gambled that another network would up the ante, and Fox did just that. CBS and NBC had been paying $200 million a year for rights – Fox bid $400 million per.
Rights fees have skyrocketed ever since.
“It was a watershed day,” Jones has said. “It changed NFL history, and the game’s relationship with TV.”
Bowlen died in June at the age of 75. He will be presented at the induction ceremony by Broncos athletic trainer Steve “Greek” Antonopulos, who has worked for the franchise for over 40 years.
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