Bowlen wouldn’t even be sniffing the HOF if he hadn’t inherited Elway

When the contributors’ committee met last week to select a candidate to be voted on at the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame selection meeting next February, they were looking at a strong field.

It included Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, former general managers Bobby Beathard and George Young and scouting pioneer Gil Brandt of the Dallas Cowboys.

They could have easily just picked a name out of a hat.

Since there aren’t a lot of other slam-dunk contributor candidates at the moment, all four figure to be selected in the next three years.

There will be two nominated in 2019, then one a year after that.

The committee picked Beathard, and while my choice would have been Young, I wasn’t upset about it. Young’s time will come soon.

But I was taken aback from the negative reaction in Denver.

There was outrage there, especially since the two non-voting consultants – Charley Casserly and John Madden – had close ties to Beathard.

The voters were called “corrupt insiders,” while the process was called “dirty” and “tainted.”

Give Bowlen credit for one thing: He certainly is a popular figure in Denver.

And he gets credit for 300 wins in his first 30 years of ownership, including 18 playoff appearances, 13 division titles and seven Super Bowl appearances.

But if you look closely, the reason for much of Bowlen’s success is that he bought the team in 1984 — the year after Edgar Kaiser traded for John Elway.

Elway took the team to five of those Super Bowls and two more as an executive when he talked Peyton Manning into signing with the team.

How much success would Bowlen have if Kaiser hadn’t traded for Elway? We’ll never know, but surely not as much as he’s had.

And then there was the matter of the Broncos’ salary-cap cheating in the late 1990s, which may or may not have helped Denver win two Super Bowls. Granted, the Patriots cheated in the Bob Kraft regime, but it is still on Bowlen’s resume.

I’m not saying Bowlen shouldn’t make it, but I think his record should be looked at in more context than Bowlen’s fans want to admit.

And far as Beathard, his hiring of Joe Gibbs as head coach was a masterstroke.

Gibbs managed to win three Super Bowls in Washington with three different quarterbacks.

But that shows the hole in Beathard’s resume. He never drafted an elite quarterback. He won in Washington with Joe Theismann, who was there when he got there; Doug Williams, who was signed after USFL folded; and Mark Rypien, who was drafted by Beathard. He got to a Super Bowl in San Diego with Stan Humphries, of all people, after drafting him in Washington.

On the other hand, Beathard took Ryan Leaf with the second pick in 1988. And in 2000, his coach, Mike Riley, wanted him to take Tom Brady, but Beathard declined.

Still, Beathard built winning teams without great quarterbacks, and no résumé is perfect. He will likely be voted in.

Brandt has a strong case because he helped modernize scouting with the Cowboys and brought in the players who helped Dallas enjoy a record 20 consecutive winning seasons.

I still think Young has the best case because of his lasting legacy. He took over a New York Giants team that has been losing for 15 years while two members of the Mara ownership family feuded with each other.

Young not only built a team that won two Super Bowls, but he hired Ernie Accorsi as his assistant, and Accorsi replaced him and traded for Eli Manning, hired Tom Coughlin and turned the baton over to Jerry Reese, who won two more Super Bowls. The Giants have now been a solid contender for over three decades, and Young laid the foundation for that success.

All four men – Beathard, Bowlen, Brandt and Young – will have busts in the Hall. It’s just a matter of what order.

New England owner Kraft also is a lock to make it, but then the real debate starts. Besides Bowlen and Kraft, there don’t seem to be any other owners with strong cases at the moment.

Looking back, Jack Vainisi has been largely forgotten, but he drafted most of the players Vince Lombardi won with and recommended the hiring of Lombardi to the Packers’ board of directors. Vainisi died at age 33 in 1960, and while the Packers have built a monument to him across Lombardi Avenue from Lambeau Field, he’s been overshadowed by the Lombardi legacy.

Art Rooney Jr., who drafted nine Hall of Famers from 1969-1974 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, could be considered. So could one of their top scouts, Bill Nunn, a former newspaper writer for an African-American newspaper in Pittsburgh who mined the small black colleges for players in the 1970s when most teams were overlooking them.

It may be difficult for two Pittsburgh personnel guys of the same era to make it, even if they drafted better than any team has before or since.

The debate about contributors after Beathard, Bowlen, Brandt, Young and Kraft will be lively.

But there isn’t any debate that those five are going to be enshrined — even if the Broncos are upset that Bowlen was bypassed the last two years.

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