Of B&B, one was an all-time NFL Champ; the other was a two-time Little Grey Cup champion.
The majestic announcement was official Saturday afternoon: Can-Am Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and former cornerback Champ Bailey have been voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Let’s hope Pat, who is in the dark stages of Alzheimer’s, knows he deservedly has earned the NFL’s highest honor in the hallowed Hall.
In the name of Bowlen, and those you know who have suffered with the debilitating disease, please consider a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado.
Bowlen saved the Broncos ... and brought three Super Bowl titles to his adopted state.
Pat would be even more pleased that former Broncos’ cornerback Roland Bailey Jr. – Champ – also was chosen Saturday on his first ballot, and the two will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall in Canton, Ohio, on August 4. The Broncos certainly will play in the annual HOF exhibition August 2.
Unfortunately, and incongruously, Steve Atwater was not approved – yet. However, this is the first time in franchise history that two Broncos’ representative were sanctioned in the same year. Amazingly, considering that the Broncos have featured two of the greatest defenses in NFL history — the “Orange Crush’’ and the “No-Fly Zone’’ — Champ is the franchise’s only defensive player ever to be selected.
Pat and Champ brought class, talent, enjoyment and championships in their positions with the Broncos. They were no-brainers for enshrinement.
Champ was named to the Pro Bowl a dozen seasons and definitely was the very best cornerback of his era (1999-2013) or any other. Pat produced one of the four most successful franchises in pro football in his four-decade ownership tenure (1984-2019), which includes seven appearances in Super Bowls, 18 seasons in the postseason and 21 winning regular seasons.
Everyone knows about Bailey’s shutout defense and 52 interceptions, especially one of 100 yards in a playoff game for the Broncos, and that even though he was playing injured, Bailey ended his profession in Super Bowl 48.
Almost nobody knows that so many years before Bowlen won back-to-back Super Bowls, he won back-to-back Canadian Junior League championships as the Edmonton Huskies’ tight end.
In a hockey-crazed country, Pat always loved football. Bowlen once told me that when he was 2, his dad Paul sneaked him into an Edmonton Eskimos’ Canadian Football League game. At 12, he was sent by mom, Arvella, to Campion Jesuit Catholic School in Prairie du Chien, Wis. Although his parents lived in Canada (where his dad was an oil wildcatter), Pat’s mother gave birth in Prairie du Chien, her hometown, because she wanted Pat to be an American citizen.
He played receiver at Campion, then tight end for the 17-to-21-year-old amateur Huskies in Edmonton. “I was an all-star,’’ he once said, while laughing, in an interview with the Toronto Star. Actually, “I played without distinction.’’ Nevertheless, he became a walk-on at the University of Oklahoma “until I realized I wasn’t going to be an All-American.’’
Pat graduated with a law degree, returned to Canada and became an attorney, then an executive in his father’s oil and gas company and a real estate developer.
In 1975 Bowlen and his business partner provided the funds to build Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium for the Huskies and the Eskimos. Pat didn’t have to sneak into games.
He still possessed a fervent passion for football – and vowed to own a team
The Broncos were his third choice.
Pat attempted in 1981 to buy the CFL’s floundering Montreal Alouettes. But, as he told me, an English-speaking owner in a French-dominated city was unacceptable, and he couldn’t entice local investors. The Alouettes would fold.
His next preference – believe it or not – were the Dallas Cowboys. But the price was too lofty, and the Cowboys didn’t want a guy from Canada in Texas. Eventually, Jerry Jones, the other current NFL owner in the Hall of Fame, purchased the franchise.
In Alberta, Bowlen was member of a Catholic Church that Edgar Kaiser Jr. attended. Kaiser had bought the Broncos in 1981. “I said if he ever wanted to sell the team, to give him a call’’, Bowlen told me.
In March of 1984 the two met in Hawaii, where Kaiser owned a hotel and Bowlen a home. They agreed on a deal for 60.8 percent of the franchise (the rest was owned by two Colorado men) for $78 million, more than twice what Kaiser had paid.
Kaiser previously had said to me over lunch one day he wanted to cut All-Pro Randy Gradishar’s salary in half – from $300,000 – and that he planned to raise ticket prices to $100 apiece when most tickets were in the $20-$50 range. He named his assistant-attorney Hein Poulus, who had never witnessed an NFL game, the Broncos’ general manager. Fancy that. And Kaiser, in a talk that stunned me, said he’d consider moving the franchise to Vancouver because it was his hometown and he wish to be the only NFL owner with a team in Canada.
Meanwhile, Edgar, who died in 2012, was selling off the famed Kaiser corporations to avoid bankruptcy.
The Broncos were sinking into debt and an abyss, and were in danger of being sold or transferred out of the country. Kaiser personally swung a deal with Baltimore Colts’ peculiar and despised owner Robert Irsay to obtain John Elway. He made the franchise more attractive to potential owners.
Bowlen became the Broncos’ fourth owner. My initial reaction in a column was: “Another one, eh?’’
Pat was different. Yet, in our first one-on-one conversation, he said: “I’m permanently committed to the Broncos and Denver. We put it in the (purchase) contract. I will die with my boots on owning the Broncos. I’m giving up my other stuff. I’m moving here, and working full time with the football franchise, and my only goal is be No. 1 and win Super Bowls.’’
Then he showed up on the sideline at Mile High Stadium on a cold day in a full-length fur coat.
However, he built the Broncos into a superior team, led by Elway, that advanced to the Super Bowl (and lost) three times in the 1980s, and he spent almost all of his riches (and had to borrow more) to build another dynamic team in the 1990s that twice won the Super Bowl. He also led the charge, and put up $150 million of the cost, to build a new stadium when Mile High was literally falling down.
And, even after Pat first disclosed to me in a phone interview in 2009, that he was suffering from “short-term memory loss’’ and couldn’t remember details from the two Super Bowl championships, he would build another exceptional team. His last major decisions were to hire Elway to run the football operations and to agree that the Broncos sign Peyton Manning. Two more Super Bowls – the last No. 50 in which the Broncos won – resulted
Bowlen changed the landscape of the Broncos and the entire NFL – spearheading the selection of Paul Tagliabue as commissioner and chairing the ownership committee that signed the league’s largest TV package with multiple networks ($11 billion). Bowlen was responsible for creating Sunday Night Football.
Pat, interestingly enough, served on the league’s Hall of Fame committee.
In 2013, at the last major public charity event Pat attended in Denver, he received a philanthropic award for the hundreds of millions of dollars he had donated to causes in Denver and Colorado. Bowlen did not speak. On the podium he was physically supported by the Broncos only Hall of Famers — Elway, Floyd Little, Shannon Sharpe and Gary Zimmerman. The occasion was both wonderful and sad. Bowlen couldn’t have believed that six years later his bust would be alongside those four, Terrell Davis and Champ Bailey Hall of Fame chambers.
You did become more than an All-American football player, Pat. And on a rainy night in Georgia, Champ never dreamed of this day.
Congratulations to Mr. B and The Champ.