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Pat Bowlen’s achievements transcend the Denver Broncos

Fans caught a glimpse of what was to come over the last 33 years in Mr. B’s first season as owner.

Pat Bowlen

There was no way to predict what would happen. There was hope, but short of that there wasn’t much else to go on. All that fans knew was the Denver Broncos had a new owner.

He was a relatively unknown businessman from Wisconsin who bought the organization from Edgar Kaiser for $78 million. His name was Pat Bowlen.

It’s important to get a baseline of where the Broncos were on March 23, 1984, when Bowlen became the owner. Kaiser bought the team in 1981 from Gerald Phipps. Kaiser didn’t own the team that long, but made two of the most important moves in franchise history.

As Brian Howell said of Kaiser in his book, “100 Things Broncos Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die,” “Shortly after becoming owner, he fired Red Miller and hired Dan Reeves as head coach. Then, in 1983, he engineered the trade that brought John Elway to Denver.”

The Broncos had been to just one Super Bowl when Bowlen took control of the franchise in 1984. Bowlen wanted that to change, and was set to do whatever he could to make it happen. He was determined to make this one of the best franchises in professional sports, not just the NFL.

It’s not hard to picture Bowlen’s goals being met with a snicker - not just across the NFL, but in Denver. The Broncos didn’t exactly have a track record to give one much hope that could happen.

Then fans caught a glimpse of what was to come. Some of the highlights, courtesy of the Broncos website and this fantastic page, of Bowlen’s first year as owner: The first Ring of Fame class was inducted at halftime of the preseason opener against the Washington Redskins (Rich “Tombstone” Jackson, Floyd Little, Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin and Lionel Taylor). On Nov. 18, 1984, Elway threw five touchdowns in Denver’s 42-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings for its 10th-straight win. The Broncos finished the season 13-3 and first place in the AFC West.

Here we are 33 years later and Bowlen has seen all of his goals come to life. The numbers speak for themselves.

  • Seven Super Bowl appearances
  • Seven AFC titles
  • Five losing seasons
  • Three Lombardi Trophies
  • Second best winning percentage in professional sports (.612)

What’s remarkable to think about, is that’s just the success for his own franchise. Bowlen was vital to the growth of the NFL and the monster it is today.

As I said in my column when Mr. B was snubbed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame subcommittee:

“As Mike Klis wrote on Monday about Bowlen’s candidacy, ‘His work as chairman of the TV committee that helped explode the NFL from one of the three major sports that -€” incomprehensibly as it may seem now -€” claimed it was losing money from its TV packages in 1991 to what is now a $13 billion a year monolith.

‘It was Bowlen's decision to bring in the Fox network as a partner starting with the 1994 season that changed the world of sports broadcasting rights fees. Bowlen is also considered the father of NBC's 'Sunday Night Football' that, since its inception in 2006, has usually been the highest-rated show on television each week.’

“Again, when Bowlen took control of the TV committee in the early ‘90s, the previous chair, Art Modell, claimed the NFL was losing money.”

Thirty-three years after Mr. B became the owner, it’s incredible to see what’s happened and the success that has followed.

Bowlen not only changed the Broncos, he changed the NFL.