Like everybody else who loves the Denver Broncos and bleeds orange and blue, I was deeply saddened by the news today that owner, Pat Bowlen is stepping down as CEO and from the daily operations of the team due to his battle against Alzheimer’s Disease. Anybody who follows the Broncos closely is fully aware that Mr. Bowlen has been rumored to be dealing with the onset of this horrible disease as early as 2009. In fact, he told Woody Paige of the Denver Post about his memory loss in a 2009 interview. He mentioned to Paige that there are times when he can’t remember the two Super Bowls won in the late 1990′s. Even though we new this day would come, it’s still devastating to Broncos Country.
The passion we fans have for the Broncos runs deeply and Mr. B. has had a huge hand in that. It is not only the cultivation of a winning culture in a football town that did not win very much in it’s first 17 years. It’s not only the philanthropic endeavors and how much Pat Bowlen gave back to the community, which has been a lot. It’s the aforementioned winning, philanthropy, and his dedication to winning for not only his employees, staff, and players, but for the teams’ fans as well.
Mr. Bowlen was so concerned about this team falling into the hands of somebody who didn’t care about it that he has been working on a transition plan for years. Team president, Joe Ellis will assume the role of CEO and will run the team as Mr. Bolwen had, and how Ellis himself has done for the past couple of years. The franchise will be placed in a non-family trust until/if one of his children is willing to take the reigns. It’s that commitment and selflessness that made this such an emotional day for those that have worked with him and have played for him. John Elway has done both so it’s no surprise that when addressing the media, he was very emotional and could not keep it together.
His commitment to winning has been obvious for the past 30 years and the Broncos’ success under his leadership unmatched. I’ll lay it out for you. Since Mr. B. bought the team in 1984:
- He is the first owner to reach 300 wins in his first 30 seasons.
- The Broncos have had only 5 losing seasons. That is the best mark in the NFL. Heck, there’s a team in our own division which has not posted a winning season in the past 11.
- The Broncos have the second best winning percentage in the NFL.
- No other team has won more conference championships than the Denver Broncos’ six.
- The Broncos became only the sixth team to repeat as Super Bowl Champions (XXXII and XXXIII).
- Denver trails only the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers in the number of postseason victories accumulated.
- Three of the four Denver Broncos in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Elway, Gary Zimmerman, and Shannon Sharpe were products of the Bowlen era. The other is Floyd Little who played from 1967-1975. And there should be many more, but that is a different article for a different time.
The thing is, if I dug further, I can list a dozen more records and milestones reached since 1984.
As an orange and blue bleeding Broncos’ fan, I have three very specific memories of Pat Bowlen.
The first for me is that of a young, third year owner, on a raw mid-January day in Cleveland. I remember the image an owner overcome with excitement as he watched his wunderkind QB drive his team 98 yards with about 5:00 left in the 4th quarter en route to his first Super Bowl. I remember the images of Mr. B. anxiously standing on the sideline in a long fur coat. Then with his breath meeting the cold air in Cleveland, you can see the steam pouring out as he yelled out, “C’MON JOHNNY, BABY!”
Next, in my mind’s eye I remember Mr. Bowlen standing on that podium after our first championship at Super Bowl XXXII. With confetti raining down and a gleam in his eye like the proud father of his 53 football-playing children, he stood with the Lombardi trophy in his hand and with an unfettered appreciation for the QB who had carried the Broncos on his back for much of Bowlen’s first 12 seasons as owner, proclaimed, “THIS ONE’S FOR JOHN!”
A year later, there was Mr. Bowlen again on the podium, post Super Bowl XXXIII with that gleam once again. Now this is where I believe he is a cut above the other owners in the league. Others will refer to the fans as a secondary thought when speaking of what the championship means to them. Not Pat Bowlen! Knowing what he means to us and vice versa, it was with love and loyalty that he looked in camera as if he was looking all of us in the eyes, hoisted the trophy again, and shouted, “THIS ONE’S FOR YOU!” It was as if he was looking forward to the second championship just so he would have that platform to show his appreciation to Broncos’ Country.
That is absolutely consistent with how Mr. Bowlen approached the business of the Denver Broncos. It was never about him. Mr. B.’s wife, Annabel Bowlen released a statement on the Broncos’ website and touched on that very thing. Even though Mr. Bowlen knew that he was dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s, he wanted to hold off on announcing anything because, he didn’t want to make it about him.
Well Mr. Bowlen, this article and this melancholy day are all about you. It’s about your commitment to the Denver Broncos, the Rocky Mountain region, the community, and Broncos’ fans everywhere. It’s about creating an unprecedented culture of winning in Colorado and giving us fans something to be proud of. It’s about us never being ashamed of wearing our orange hearts on our sleeves. So for once, you don’t have a say in this matter…THIS ONE’S FOR YOU! Many refer to you as Mr. B. but to us, you are Grade A. God bless you and may he hold you in the palm of his hand while you fight the good fight.