Bowlen’s vision reshaped the NFL; television’s sports landscape

Pat Bowlen at Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014. Credit: Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports.
Pat Bowlen at Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014. Credit: Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports.

Picture an NFL without Pat Bowlen? Longtime Broncos press guru Jim Saccomano can — and it’s one that ‘s very different from the one we see today.

Speaking to Eric Goodman & Les Shapiro of Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7, Saccomano explained what might not have been.

“Well, there might not be any Sunday Night Football, which is a big feature of the game. He was the head of the TV committee when they made the biggest TV deal ever in history. He was the head of the collective bargaining agreement when they did that first major, major CBA covering many years. And so he has been a member of 15 NFL committees, and often would talk to the commissioner daily. Daily, the commissioner would call him and ask his opinion on things, not to mention the first and only owner to have 300 wins in his first 30 years, an average of 10.3 wins for 30 years is astonishing, and it’s not like you can go back an make up for it. When the 30’s over then the statistic is whatever it is. He’s just been a remarkable figure plus he’s been a humble guy and a great giver in Denver. I’ve known of many charities here that he never wanted his name attached to and pledged me to secrecy after giving large sums of money.”

Saccomano had a front row seat to the development of the NFL and the revenue and ratings growth that occurred in the 1980s and 90s. Former Fox Sports President David Hill, once said of the reasons for that growth, “Pat was the brains and Jerry Jones was the muscle.” Saccomano explained why.

“I don’t want to denigrate anyone else, like Jerry Jones or anything, but that’s a really good compliment by David Hill. We’ve seen the growth of Fox from the beginning to being an enormity of a network now, and Pat just had a vision of something, he always wanted something bigger. Like Sunday Night Football, he was the father of Sunday Night Football. But also the international games. And it reminds me a little bit of Tex Schramm, you know when they started the Thursday night, the Thanksgiving day and they wanted to add a second game. Everyone said ‘We don’t wanna play a game on Thanksgiving, and Tex Schramm stood up and said, ‘We’ll go every year.’ So the Cowboys got Thanksgiving day every year, and look what that’s become. Pat would always put his hand up when they said international, ‘We’re going to play in Tokyo next year.’ He would raise his hand immediately and say ‘We want that game.’ And of course there was a period where the Broncos and the 49ers; it seemed like every other game it was the Broncos or 49ers. Pat wanted that, he wanted to expand the vision and the role of the NFL overseas. There’s been enormous growth and really he’s been a big part of that.”

Saccomano was with the Broncos prior to Bowlen’s purchase of the team, and at the time, fans weren’t sure what to make of the flashy, fur coat-wearing owner. Now, Bowlen is revered in Denver and around the league.

“I’m very proud of it and it shows that with growth, people began to understand and accept more and more of the greatness of the individual,” Saccomano said. “His first few years, and Pat is a very shy guy, a lot of times I’d have him doing media and he hated doing media because he was shy not because he hated the media. And he also early on, he was from Canada, and people just had a little more difficult time accepting him because he wasn’t a Denver guy. But he became a Denver guy almost immediately and then exponentially; after all once he came here he never left. He made his home here and he never left except to go to Hawaii for a month every summer which isn’t treated like another country, well it isn’t another country, it’s a vacation type destination state. But the thing about Pat is he never worried about what someone said about him, he didn’t worry about it. He did the right thing, he tried to say the right thing. And then if he got criticized he was off his back so quickly sometimes I would go to him and say ‘You know so-and-so wrote this’ and he said ‘I’m not’ – you know he could be very colorful sometimes I think you know what I mean by that, he’d say ‘I’m not worried about that, I could care less. You shouldn’t either’ and that was that.”

In all likelihood, the Broncos will have two men inducted into the Hall next year — Bowlen and Bailey — which makes it likely that the team will play in the Hall of Fame Game, as well. Saccomano realizes that, but understandably, doesn’t assume anything.

“Well, first of all I don’t count the chickens til they’re safely out of the shell, so Champ is certainly a Hall-of-Famer, but we don’t know if somebody gets in on the first ballot, we just never know that. But all those things you outlined are correct, and I cannot even imagine the number of people from Denver or the level of celebration that’ll take place in Canton. It’ll be fantastic, it’d rival [any] celebrations that have taken place at Canton.”

Click here to listen to the full locker room interview with Jim Saccomano.

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