By: Tarrian Rodgers
There may be no more beloved figure in all the NFL than 2020 NFL Hall of Fame enshrine of Pat Bowlen. Affectionately referred to as "Mr. B", Pat Bowlen built a culture of winning within the Broncos organization that resulted in an unprecedented winning percentage of .596 and an overall record of (354-240-1) and posting a league-high 199 regular-season home wins. To truly put this impressive mark on display let’s compare this to all 123 major North American professional sports franchises (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB), only the San Antonio Spurs, New England Patriots and Los Angeles Lakers had a better overall winning percentage than the Broncos under Mr. Bowlen.
No NFL owner during the last 35 seasons had more winning seasons (21) and playoff berths (18) than Mr. Bowlen, who helped Denver become the only team with 90+ wins over each of his first three decades of ownership. Denver posted a league-low seven losing seasons under Mr. Bowlen while being the only team to rank among the top five in wins during both the pre-free agency (1984-92, 96 wins, T-4th) and post-free agency (1993-2018, 258 wins, 4th) eras of his ownership.
Winning on the field is one thing but winning with fans and being a pillar within your community is a whole other. Under Pat Bowlen, no NFL team had more home game sellouts—all 300 possible regular season and playoff games—than the Broncos during his ownership. The Broncos also played in nearly 350 nationally televised games during his ownership, including an AFC-best 132 prime-time games, with local TV ratings consistently ranking among the highest in the league.
The Broncos' popularity with fans under Pat Bowlen was confirmed in 2014 when the team earned the distinction of being named "America's Team" in a national Harris Poll. "This is their team," Bowlen once said when referring to the fans. "It's not my team. I think if you manage your club well, the fans appreciate that. They have a stake in it, too."
Held in the highest regard by Broncos fans and around the NFL, Mr. Bowlen's reputation was recognized in 2000 when he finished first in an ESPN poll that asked, "Which NFL owner would be the best to play for?" He also has been nominated numerous times for Executive of the Year by various media publications.
In addition to his indelible impact on the Denver Broncos, Pat Bowlen firmly established himself as one of the game's greatest contributors through all his efforts to help grow the National Football League. As recently noted by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Mr. Bowlen was the only owner who was heavily involved in all four areas of league growth during the late 1980s and early 1990s: television, labor, stadium development and international play.
One of the longest-tenured owners in NFL history, Mr. Bowlen served on 15 different league committees during his time as Broncos owner—the third-most committee assignments of any owner all-time. Over the course of his career, he had the rare feat of serving as the chairman of both the prestigious NFL Broadcasting Committee and NFL Management Council Executive Committee (labor). When other professional sports leagues struggled with labor issues and economics, Mr. Bowlen emphasized that the NFL could not lose sight of what mattered the most—the fans. "I think there's a lesson there," Bowlen once said. "It's about the connection with the fans… There's a lot of competition in [the market] for the sports dollar. I, and this organization, we are very cognizant of that."
In his role as chair of the NFL Broadcast Committee, Mr. Bowlen was a crucial part of the negotiations for the league's $18 billion TV deal in 1998 that marked the most lucrative single-sport contract in history. His innovation and vision to grow the game on television was recently recognized by former NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, who referred to Mr. Bowlen as "the single major force in the creation of Sunday Night Football."
Bowlen isn’t just a future member of the NFL Hall of Fame, he was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, Pat Bowlen's championship mentality included an extraordinary commitment to the community. As chairman of the board of Denver Broncos Charities, Mr. Bowlen donated more than $35 million to charitable organizations in the Denver area since the inception of that fund in 1993. His status and reputation as an owner were recognized locally in 2013 when he received the Mizel Institute Community Enrichment Award, the region's most prestigious philanthropic accolade, for his community leadership and commitment to the city of Denver and state of Colorado.
The longest-tenured owner in Colorado sports history, Pat Bowlen was the only owner in professional sports whose team fully funded its own branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Opening its doors in 2003, the Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club recently celebrated its 15th season impacting youth.
"The league is a big influence on young people's lives, and we've got to set an example," Bowlen once said. "The players are where it starts. Nobody cares about Pat Bowlen—I don't even register on the meter. These young football players are looked up to by lots of younger people, and they have to make sure they're sending the right message. And we'll do everything we can to help them understand that."
Although Mr. Bowlen had a reduced role with the Broncos in recent seasons as he focused on his battle with Alzheimer's disease, he continued to have a positive impact on the community. The public announcement of his Alzheimer's diagnosis in July 2014 has helped raise awareness and funds for a disease that currently affects more than 5.8 million Americans.
In conclusion, Pat Bowlen's impact on the Denver sports landscape extended beyond the Broncos as he not only seen success on the field but he has won off the field with his charitable donations and eye for the future of making the NFL larger than life. After 15 years of trying his quarterback John Elway finally got the super bowl glory that previously alluded him. And on that stage Bowlen said “This one is for you John.” When the NFL finally gets the opportunity to restore the NFL Hall of Fame Pat Bowlen will take his rightful place into Canton so “This one is for you Pat.”