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Pat Bowlen boldly led the NFL to TV dominance when it needed it most

It’s another example of why the Broncos owner needs to get in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Divisional Playoffs: New England Patriots v Denver Broncos Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

In the early 1990s, the NFL was in sore need of a new path. A new vision to lead the league into the future. What it needed was someone who was a bold thinker and unafraid of change.

Think about this: When Art Modell departed as chairman of the TV Committee, he claimed the NFL was losing money. That’s unfathomable when you look at the current state of the NFL.

Enter Pat Bowlen.

The Denver Broncos owner knew the path, had a vision, was a bold thinker and unafraid of change. What you see today on the TV side of the NFL is because of Mr. Bowlen. As I said over the weekend, you cannot write the story of the NFL without Mr. B. Like we did with Terrell Davis earlier this year, this is our attempt to state the case for Bowlen to get in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018. Now we turn to TV rights.

The first huge move Bowlen made was to bring on Fox in 1994. At the time, people said the NFL, and Mr. B, was nuts. How could this work when not every TV had Fox? He didn’t care. As Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis told me, Bowlen had the foresight and vision for where the NFL was going.

“That really changed the landscape of how games were covered, how they were viewed,” Ellis said. “It opened up the eyes of so many people that it didn’t just have to be two networks (CBS and NBC). There was this new up-and-comer that could succeed, and it worked out great.”

The other huge contribution was “Sunday Night Football,” as Tim Lynch covered a few days ago. As Ellis and Jim Saccomano told me, he was the father of “Sunday Night Football.” As was the case with the move to Fox, the plan for “Sunday Night Football” was met with resistance. Ellis told me that came from the rich history and tradition of “Monday Night Football.”

“But Pat saw that that would be something that football fans would grasp and embrace,” he said. “And he was right.

When the NFL needed a new path, new vision, a bold thinker and someone unafraid of change, Mr. Bowlen quietly took the lead and transformed it into the behemoth you see today.

“He was the head of the labor committee when they did the labor contract,” Saccomano, the head of public relations for 36 years and now a consultant/historian with the organization, told me. “He was the head of the TV committee when the TV contracts jumped. And no matter where you look, his fingerprint was on everything there was. That alone, I think makes him a hall of famer.”

That’s on top of what he did as the owner of the Broncos. Of the abundance of accomplishments, one rises to the top: The only owner in NFL history to win 300 games in his first 30 years. It’s time to get Mr. B in the Hall of Fame.

“Not only the success of the organization, which I think is second to none,” former Broncos safety Steve Atwater told me. “The number of winning seasons we’ve had versus losing seasons. The number of ballgames that we’ve won. The number of playoff appearances. The Super Bowls over the last 20 years or so. I think that speaks for itself. But in terms of all the high salaries and the TV contracts, he played an integral role in making that happen. So I don’t see how really anybody can say that he’s not. What more can he do? He’s great for the state of Colorado. He does charitable events all across the state. He’s great for the city of Denver. And we love him.”