The recent proceedings with the Hall of Fame subcommittee have brought one silver lining: more people are talking about Pat Bowlen’s great achievements over the course of his career.
When he finally is enshrined in his rightful place within the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Mr. B” will be remembered for building and maintaining one of the most successful sports franchises, and doing it with a personal touch that made the organization feel like a family.
Because it's worth reiterating again...NO REASON to pick Jones over Bowlen. pic.twitter.com/C2qLCXj9qO— L.Lattimore-Volkmann (@docllv) August 21, 2016
But, I believe one of his most overlooked achievements could go down as one of the greatest moves in franchise history: the decision to bring John Elway back to the Broncos.
In early 2011, Denver was at one of their lowest points as a franchise after an embarrassing 4-12 season, a videotaping scandal, and the subsequent firing of Head Coach, Josh McDaniels.
It was in this time that Pat Bowlen, already beginning to deteriorate in health, knew the Broncos needed strong leadership to get the organization back on track, and he knew just the man for the job.
Despite this seeming like a match made in heaven from the start, the move was met with much skepticism around the league.
Mike Florio, had a particularly scathing take at the time:
Sorry, folks, but we remain very skeptical about this. Elway is getting the job without paying the dues. Watching film with his father and running an AFL franchise isn’t the kind of experience necessary to run an NFL team, and it’s sort of an insult to the men who have earned their stripes by grinding for years, learning the business from the bottom up and earning each next rung on the ladder.
It’s almost as if Bowlen and Ellis don’t know what else to do, so they’ll give the keys to a guy whose only real qualifications are his ability to throw a ball and the fact that his presence will sell tickets and/or restore hope, false as it may be.
A press conference will be held at 3:30 p.m. ET, at which time the likes of Woody Paige and the rest of the Denver media will likely pucker up for Elway, Ellis, and Bowlen. Here’s hoping that someone out there has the independence and the will to ask tough questions about the confusing decision to give so much responsibility and power to a guy who really has done nothing to merit it.
Also, don’t rule out the possibility that Elway will realize that working for a living is a lot more demanding than being a retired football star.
Mike was severely mistaken.
Others saw the move as a PR stunt or a marketing ploy to win the fans back and sell tickets. People assumed that Elway would be a figurehead, showing up at events and galas, but not actually running any significant portion of the team. Skepticism abounded.
“Elway? No way,” a minority owner of a pro sports team told me bluntly.
A man of authority with the Broncos said: “Truthfully, that’s not happening. John has no experience as an NFL executive.”
An NFL official said: “Don’t hitch your wagon to that idea. Dan Marino was named to the same job with the Dolphins in 2004 … and lasted just three weeks.”
Another person with close connections to the Broncos said: “It would be a disaster for Pat. He can’t bring in John after the (Josh) McDaniels mess. John likes to play golf and wants to enjoy retirement. He wouldn’t commit to the job. You don’t even put him in a figurehead (role).”
They were severely mistaken.
One AFC executive, upon hearing rumblings of John Elway’s hiring, texted a source saying “Please let the Elway rumor be true!”.
He was also severely mistaken.
Pat Bowlen always believed in John, as a quarterback, and as an executive.
At the time of Elway’s hiring, Joe Ellis said John’s most important trait was his, “complete and clear understanding of what the Broncos mean to the community, the fans, and to [owner] Pat Bowlen.”
Five winning season, two Super Bowl appearances, and one Super Bowl victory; it’s safe to say John Elway gets it.
Upon winning Super Bowl 50 and exclaiming from the stage that “This one’s for Pat”, Elway said “I was waiting for the day that I was able to do that, I was glad, really thrilled, that I would be able to do that. We'll take that trophy over to Pat next week and let him cherish it.”
“Mr. B” loves the Broncos and has held them to the highest standard, constantly pushing them to win from now on.
He picked the right man for the job.
Editor’s Note: This was originally published August 23, 2016. With this being “Pat Bowlen Week” on Mile High Report, we are refreshing and reposting this piece.