NFL owners are businessmen. Because they are businessmen, they concern themselves with the bottom line, sometimes to a fault. No businessman is a saint nor should anyone expect them to be. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t traits a businessmen can possess that make him a good one.
When it comes to NFL owners, Pat Bowlen is not without his faults. He is not without his mistakes. Overall, though, he’s acted exactly like you expect an NFL owner should act. Let’s review the characteristics of a good NFL owner and how they applied to Bowlen.
1. He never makes the team about himself. Bowlen always preferred anybody but himself be the public face of the Denver Broncos. Whether that was a player (John Elway, Champ Bailey, Terrell Davis), a coach (every coach the Broncos have had has been that) or a team executive (Elway in his most recent role), that’s the person Bowlen wants to talk publicly about the Broncos in most circumstances. Seldom did he talk about the team, preferring to let the coaches handle that. Nobody had to ask him for his opinions on what the team needed to do get better; he’d leave that up to whoever made those decisions.
2. He didn’t micromanage. You never saw Bowlen insist that the Broncos had to sign or retain a certain player. The courtship of Peyton Manning was one he stayed out of, leaving that up to Elway, John Fox and Brian Xanders (and while Bowlen’s health issues were worsening, he still would have kept himself out of that picture). He didn’t interject himself when Mike Shanahan decided to trade Clinton Portis for Champ Bailey and a draft pick. He didn’t push Elway to draft Von Miller or Shanahan to draft Al Wilson. When he made the call to trade Jay Culter, that was a rare thing for him to do, not because one doesn’t trade franchise QBs, but because Bowlen simply didn’t want to be involved with personnel decisions. Which brings me to the next point.
3. He allowed the people he hired to do their jobs and kept his role limited to evaluating how they did them. More importantly, he didn’t fire a head coach just for one reason. Dan Reeves had his disputes with Elway and Mike Shanahan made the wrong defensive coordinator hire in Bob Slowik, but when you look at the bigger picture, those were not the sole reasons they were fired. Same thing with Bowlen’s two hires who were around for just two seasons (Wade Phillips and Josh McDaniels). Multiple factors led to Bowlen’s decisions to find somebody else. And when he turned over those coaching hires to Elway, he allowed Elway to make the final call.
4. He brought good ideas to the NFL. He was one of the driving forces behind Sunday Night Football and the suggestion to flex games in the final weeks to ensure a matchup most fans would want to watch. Sunday Night Football has been a ratings success in part because it often airs matchups people want to see and highlights popular players and teams. And it was a way for the NFL to make money that has been met with positive reception.
5. He didn’t want to talk himself up. He kept a low profile and seemed to like it that way. When it was announced that Bowlen would be named to the Ring of Fame, Broncos news releases and those who cover the team frequently noted that Bowlen would never want that honor given to himself.
Bowlen is the perfect example of what you want from an NFL owner. The Broncos succeeded under him because he knew enough about what it meant to be a good businessman and enough to know that he wasn’t the expert on everything. Like any businessman, he would concern himself too much about the bottom line and made the wrong decisions. But like a good businessman, he learned from it and the Broncos did well under his watch.
It’s why Broncos fans can feel fortunate that Bowlen was the team owner, and why they should keep their fingers crossed that his eventual successor will learn from what he did well. And it’s why Broncos fans should appreciate the man.