CANTON, Ohio • Pat Bowlen will have a bust in Canton and a bench in Massillon.
Even more momentous, though, Bowlen had a breakout in Cleveland.
Mr. B leaves a mark in Ohio forever.
On Saturday, Pat will receive posthumously professional football’s highest honor — inclusion in the exclusive Hall of Fame.
Thankfully, Pat learned Feb. 2 from his family, representing him this week in Canton, that he had been voted in as the 14th owner, of hundreds in the century of the National Football League. His 75th birthday was 16 days later, and Pat died June 13 from complications associated with debilitating dementia disease.
Gratefully, Pat will be inducted with one of his all-time favored players — Champ Bailey.
Both were champs.
The ceremony Saturday will be held in the Hall of Fame stadium before tens of thousands of NFL loyalists.
Another ceremony in tribute of Bowlen was held Friday about 15 miles west in Massillon, Ohio, the workingman’s steel town that loves its football. Massillon has won 33 state or national high school titles. The city of about 30,000 has produced 24 NFL players, Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown and Notre Dame’s Harry Stuhldreher, one of the legendary Four Horsemen.
Every baby boy born is presented with a miniature football.
Now, Bowlen, a Canadian-American, was given his own Massillon monument — a blue-and-white bench featuring the Broncos logo. His name is not inscribed on the bench. He wouldn’t have allowed it.
More than a hundred Boys and Girls Club members, and 50 adults (including Broncos CEO Joe Ellis, five of the Bowlens and Thunder the Broncos mascot), convened for a day of fun and games on their field of dreams and a short dedication to a man none of them ever heard of. The Broncos and the Bowlen children contributed the bench and health and wellness bags to the local club because of their father’s commitment to the organization in Colorado. The Broncos are the league’s only team to fund and operate a chapter of the Boys and Girls Club.
The bench was as fitting as the bust.
I talked with three of the Bowlen daughters, who said they have been emotionally touched by the tributes to their father in Denver in June and in Canton this week.
One of the daughters eventually will succeed Pat.
In the hallowed Hall Pat will join his most bitter antagonist, Al Davis of the Raiders, and one of his closest friends in the NFL — Lamar Hunt of the Chiefs. His sculpture will rest alongside those of fabled original owners George Halas and Art Rooney, and Bowlen will be in the rooms with John Elway, Gary Zimmerman, Shannon Sharpe, Floyd Little, Terrell Davis and Bailey. The Broncos’ representation is small in numbers, but qualified in talent and certified in influence on the game’s history.
Pat was an average young and prep player who walked on for a year at Oklahoma. But he became one of the best and brightest in the NFL because of the success of the Broncos — 19 playoff seasons, five Super Bowls and two championships from 1984-2018 during his stewardship. He had so much more to accomplish before being struck down by Alzheimer’s. He suffered and battled, and was steadfast, for a decade. But he brought back John Elway and, in one of his last decisions, agreed to bring in Peyton Manning. What owner ever had two quarterbacks of their stature ... and Tim Tebow?
There’s one place in Ohio where Bowlen was not so beloved in life.
On Jan. 17, 1987, in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, Pat’s Broncos beat the Browns in a miraculous comeback and overtime for the AFC Championship always designated as The Drive. The Broncos would advance to the Super Bowl for the first time with Bowlen and Elway.
If that didn’t seriously injure the Browns enough, two more acute insults followed Jan. 17, 1988, and Jan. 14, 1990 when the Broncos beat the Browns again and again to return to the Super Bowl.
Pat is remembered for his philanthropy, his own drive to build a new stadium, his passion for winning, his close connection with Colorado and his fur coat.
I asked Pat in the mid-1990s what happened to the fur coat he had worn on the sideline in 1984.
“It’s in a closet — retired.’’ Then he laughed long and loudly.
“I last wore it in the first AFC championship in Cleveland.’’
From Canton to Massillon to Cleveland, Pat’s back, Oh-hi-Oh!