Jim Saccomano tells the perfect story to sum up Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen.
The head of Broncos public relations at the time, Saccomano asked Mr. B if he wanted anything special in his bio for the media guide. The owner just said the current info was fine. But as the two were chit-chatting, Bowlen unwittingly said the perfect thing for the blurb – and ultimately the quote atop his Ring of Fame statue:
“I want to be No. 1 in everything.”
And that’s what he has done – for the Broncos, for the fans, for the city and for the entire NFL.
“Everything he put his finger on, he made better,” Saccomano told Mile High Report last week in an exclusive interview conducted by Ian St. Clair. “Obviously I put that at the top of his bio…it sort of expresses everything: ‘I want us to be No. 1 in everything.’”
Bowlen’s competitive fingerprint is all over the NFL – as Mile High Report has been highlighting this week in an effort to convince the Pro Football Hall of Fame Contributors Committee that it must rectify the mistake last year for not putting Bowlen in. Whether it has been Mr. B’s constant presence in growing the NFL through TV deals, expanding the league overseas or pushing for Sunday Night Football, Bowlen has been the league’s biggest fan.
But his first priority was always the Broncos – its players and fans – and that priority came from his competitive spirit that always wanted to win. Er, to be “No. 1 in everything.”
This competitive nature and love for the Broncos was never so explicit as when he first met Peyton Manning, who at the time was the future HOF quarterback with the Indianapolis Colts, a team that all-too-often knocked Bowlen’s Broncos out of the playoffs.
Manning – who has always been known for having the ultimate respect for the game and important people in it, regardless of whether those people were of rival teams – recalled that meeting with some humor in 2015 before Bowlen’s Ring of Fame induction.
"I got to meet Mr. Bowlen a couple of times when I played for Indianapolis. I don't think that he liked me all that much, to tell you the truth. That's who he was. He was a competitive guy and he liked the Denver Broncos," Manning said. "I get it and I respect that."
Steve Atwater, a tough-hitting safety who played for the Broncos during their back-to-back Super Bowls in the 90s, saw firsthand how Bowlen’s commitment to the players and the team was a winning recipe for the entire franchise.
“He always does things in a first-class manner. ‘Hey, if we’re going to do something, we need to be the best at it.’ That was apparent throughout his ownership, so I have the utmost respect for him, and most people I know feel the exact same way,” Atwater told Mile High Report last week during an exclusive interview at training camp.
Players certainly have – and that is something not enough NFL teams can boast.
Jake Plummer, former Broncos quarterback, loved playing for Bowlen.
"His main focus was always on the players. He wanted us to be comfortable, not worry about anything but be ready to play. Whatever we needed, he'd make it happen," Plummer told MHR, adding that Bowlen loved to hang out with the players. "He'd hang out and talk shit and laugh with us. But not only did he treat players with respect, he treated everybody with respect."
Demaryius Thomas, who credits Mr. B for being a Bronco, has a huge appreciation for the man.
"He's the reason I'm here right now. I can't say I talk to him much, but when I'm always around him, he's always a nice guy," Thomas said before the ROF induction in 2015. "I always speak to him and he shakes my hand. He just means a lot."
Broncos’ CEO Joe Ellis highlighted this respect from players recently in an exclusive interview with Mile High Report, noting that respect really sets Bowlen apart from other NFL owners.
“His relationship with his players was real, and it was sincere,” Ellis said. “It was not manufactured. It was not fabricated. He cared for his players. He communicated with them in a manner that made them understand clearly that he cared for his players. …It was genuine. It was real.”
Atwater noted that Bowlen’s success is “second to none.”
“The number of winning seasons we’ve had versus losing seasons. The number of ball games that we’ve won. The number of playoff appearances. The Super Bowls over the last 20 years or so,” he pointed out, “I think that speaks for itself.”
Indeed it does.
Pat Bowlen is also the only owner in NFL history to have four different head coaches lead his team to the Super Bowl. https://t.co/39xiy2Kdar— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) August 2, 2017
Bowlen’s Broncos' resumé - not to mention his larger contributions to the NFL - is so good, it's easy to overlook how remarkable each achievement has been:
Three Super Bowls (XXXII, XXXIII and L)
Seven AFC Championships
13 AFC West Championships
18 playoff appearances
21 winning seasons
First team owner to have 300 wins in 30 years.
The Broncos have sold out every game during Bowlen's ownership - a streak of 257 consecutive games (regular season and postseason) - third longest active streak in the league.
Denver has led the NFL in attendance during Bowlen's 30-year period as owner, drawing nearly 20 million fans to home games from 1984-2016, marking the highest total in the NFL.
Bowlen ushered in a new era in Denver Broncos football history in 2001 when the state-of-the-art Sports Authority Field at Mile High opened. Bowlen contributed more than $150 million to the construction of the new stadium and helped fund a $30 million upgrade during the 2013 offseason.
Overseeing the Broncos Charity that has donated $25 million to community causes for more than 20 years
The Broncos recognized as "America's Team" in 2014
Elected to the Denver Broncos Ring Of Fame in 2015 and inducted Nov. 1.
Ellis also told Mile High Report that he didn’t know what the NFL would look like without Pat Bowlen, but he certainly knows what the Denver Broncos would look like.
“We wouldn’t be 30 seasons with 300+ wins, eight Super Bowl appearances, more Super Bowl appearances than losing seasons, more Super Bowl victories in Pat’s tenure than losing seasons,” Ellis said in an exclusive interview. “And I’m not sure we have what you see out here today. He just had a vision for doing things the right way.”
Ellis pointed out that Mr. B’s vision wasn’t just for players and the league; it was also for fans. He understood more than most the role each part plays in the success of a team – the best coaches, the right players, top-notch facilities and staff, media exposure. But none of that works without great fans.
“Whenever the organization took certain steps or took certain actions, whether it was player acquisition or coaching staff hires, is it going to make us win? Will the fans accept what we’re doing?” Ellis noted about Bowlen’s approach. “He put football first, but always with the fans in mind.”
Bowlen’s commitment to players and promise to fans to always provide the best for a winning environment has been the foundation for possibly the healthiest relationship in professional sports between an owner and his team and their fans.
It’s how a Canadian oil tycoon in a fur coat, cowboy boots and shades could endear himself to a city and its football team – because he loves winning as much as we do.
A man revered by his peers in the NFL, adored by his players and respected by the fans is a man who absolutely must be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And the biggest evidence of this, is that all of these entities – players, owners, fans and the entire NFL – are a little lesser today for not having his mental presence with them.
While Mr. B did the right things to help make the franchise successful even without him, there is still a void.
“I really believe it’s an unfillable void,” Ellis said, noting that GM and president John Elway does great things for the team and Ellis himself tries to carry on the business of the Broncos like Mr. B would have wanted (by staying “the hell out of the way” and in the background.
“But all of that combined doesn’t fill what would be a great owner standing out here today in front of this big crowd behind his players and chatting them up on the sidelines. And then being in here everyday supporting his organization, supporting the NFL,” Ellis added. “It’s just something you can’t fill.”
No, it is not.