ATLANTA — They say everything happens for a reason.
Legendary Denver Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen waited far too long to get into the Hall of Fame. In 2016, when Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones got the nod as a contributor finalist over Bowlen, the committee got it wrong. In 2017, when Bobby Beathard got the nod as a contributor finalist over Bowlen, the committee got it wrong again.
But everything happens for a reason, and on Saturday, that reason became clear.
When the news came down that Bowlen will finally be enshrined in Canton, where he belongs, it came paired with more good news—legendary Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, one of Bowlen’s all-time favorite Broncos, will be going into the Hall of Fame right alongside Pat.
Just the way it should be. The way Pat Bowlen would have wanted it.
“He would want to go in with a player, 100 percent,” daughter Britany said just Friday morning. “I always knew that my dad and Champ had a very close relationship. You could tell by the way my dad talked about Champ Bailey. He has a really strong character that my dad respected.”
“That would mean a lot to him,” Broncos president Joe Ellis said of the idea of going in with Champ back in December.
On Saturday, as Hall of Fame President David Baker introduced the 2019 class, the first member he introduced was Bailey, and right behind him was Pat’s youngest daughter, Annabel Bowlen, representing her father.
For a reason.
There’s an old myth in Canton that the when the lights go off for the night, and all the employees leave, the Hall of Fame busts talk, and on that first night in August, when their busts take their rightful place, Champ says the first conversation his bust will have will be with Pat Bowlen.
“We here, man,” Bailey said of how that conversation would begin.
“There would be a lot of laughs,” he added with a mile-wide smile.
Maybe they’d talk about Bailey’s iconic 100-yard interception return against Tom Brady and the Patriots in 2006. Maybe they’d talk about Bailey’s pick-six of Drew Brees in Week 2 of the 2005 season that helped spark a great run. Maybe laugh about the few plays Bailey got on offense with the Broncos.
They’d probably cover them all, considering they’ll be there for, well, forever.
For two guys who were very understated in the way they carried themselves, it’s even more fitting for them to take on the NFL’s highest honor together. Bowlen would have likely displayed the same modest smile and nod that Bailey did when he was announced on the stage at NFL Honors. And maybe those similarities are what brought them close, closer than the average player and owner.
“It doesn’t happen much because owners usually do their thing and players usually play,” Bailey explained. “There’s usually a middle ground with the people in the middle like the coaches.”
But shortly after the Broncos executed the trade that sent running back Clinton Portis to Washington for Bailey and a second-round pick, Bowlen invited Bailey over to his house.
“If you want something to eat, you’re always welcome in my house,” Bailey remembers him saying. “If you need a place to stay, you can always come to my house.”
“It meant the world to me,” he added. “I didn’t understand why the Broncos were a first-class organization until I got there and a feel for who Pat Bowlen was.”
That day in the Bowlen household served as a catalyst for what would become a special bond. Bowlen adored the way Bailey represented his Broncos on and off the field. Bailey respected how “sneaky competitive” Bowlen was, never one to say much about it, but always quietly displaying that fire.
It’s not talked about often, but Bowlen and Bailey went out of the league together, with Super Bowl XLVIII being the last game Bailey played in and the last game Bowlen served as acting owner of the Broncos. Now, they go to the place “where legends go,” as Bowlen often described it, together. Forever side by side in the 2019 class as the first two Broncos to ever go into the Hall of Fame together.
In the words of Pat’s daughter Beth, “It just makes this that much more special.”
Everything happens for a reason.