One line captures the essence of who Pat Bowlen was.
I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not those four magical words uttered after Super Bowl XXXII. This one digs deeper. Ironically, it’s four more words.
“I want to be No. 1 in everything.”
What made the man known affectionately as “Mr. B” so special and unique is he didn’t just talk about it, the Denver Broncos owner lived it. It’s who he was. That’s what led to the success of his organization, the league and why so many people cared so deeply about him because he cared so deeply about them.
“He’s a wonderful man and the way that he ran the organization, the culture that he created here was one that everyone respected everyone else,” Broncos legend Steve Atwater told me a few years ago. “All of our coaches treated us with respect and coached us in a way that made us really want to go out and play our hardest. You didn’t want to leave anything on the line because they not only were our coaches but they actually cared about us as people. And I got that all the way from the top from Mr. Bowlen. And I think that continues to this day.
“The culture he created is one where people care about each other, and I think when you care about each other you tend to go a little bit further than you would for someone who you really don’t care about or you feel like they don’t care about you. He always does things in a first-class manner. That’s another thing that he instilled in the organization, ‘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.”
The results are simply remarkable.
- 300 wins in his first 30 years, the only owner in NFL history to pull off such a feat.
- 18 playoff appearances
- 13 division titles
- Seven Super Bowl appearances
- Seven AFC titles
- Seven losing seasons
- Four different head coaches to lead his team to the Super Bowl. The only owner in NFL history to pull off such a feat.
- Three Lombardi Trophies
In terms of the league, no one had their finger on the scale more than Mr. B. As I said in my story to get the Broncos owner in the Hall of Fame, he’s the reason the NFL is the behemoth it is today.
The biggest contributions Bowlen made to the NFL came from his time as the chairman of the TV Committee and Labor Committee. It was Bowlen’s decision to bring on Fox as a partner in the 1994 season that changed the TV landscape for the NFL. Bowlen is also considered the father of “Sunday Night Football.” It’s because of Bowlen that “Sunday Night Football” has become one of the most watched TV shows and eclipsed “Monday Night Football” in primetime importance. As others have highlighted, what’s amazing to consider is when Bowlen took control of the TV committee in the early 1990s, the previous chair, Art Modell, claimed the NFL was losing money.
Bowlen was the chair of the labor committee when the NFL and NFL Players Association avoided any labor disputes. Mr. B was vital to the international growth of the NFL. The Broncos played in seven American Bowl Games, from Tokyo and Mexico City to London and Australia. Today, the NFL has regular games in London and Mexico City with thoughts to expand to China.
You cannot write the story of the NFL without Bowlen.
“Paul Taligibue knows, Roger Goodell knows because he worked directly with them,” Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis told me a few years ago. “But not a lot of other people really know Pat’s impact on the league because it was never broadcast, it was never publicized. He kept it to himself. That’s the way he was on all of those matters. When TV deals were done, Pat wasn’t standing up trumpeting. He wasn’t coming to you or other people in the media saying, ‘look at what we’ve accomplished. And, by the way, I’m responsible.’ That’s not his style.”
Today, the Broncos owner gets inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s bittersweet since he is no longer with us, but it doesn’t take away from the accomplishment or his determination to make his goal to be No. 1 in everything he did a reality. From this day forth, Mr. B will forever be known as a Hall-of-Famer.
“We were just sitting in his office once and I said, ‘I’m knocking off the media guide, anything special you want in your bio?’” Jim Saccomano told me a few years ago. “He goes, ‘It’s fine, just fine.’ And then we were just talking, ‘I want to be No. 1 in everything.’ Well, obviously, I put that at the top of his bio, and I made sure when I wrote the script for his Ring of Fame Plaza statue that it’s listed there. It sort of expresses everything. ‘I want us to be No. 1 in everything.’ And he felt that way about the NFL too.”