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Remembering ‘The Greatest Owner in Sports’: Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen dies at age 75

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Zach Gotlieb | June 18th, 2019

 

“Be number one at everything and do it the right way.” Ask anyone within the Broncos organization what the core values of the franchise are, and that’s what you would hear. Those are not just some random words, it’s by design. Set by someone who has been called ‘the greatest owner in sports,’ Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.

Pat Bowlen died in his home in Colorado after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s. He was 75. He is lived on by his wife Annabel (also suffering from Alzheimer’s). Their five children: Patrick Dennis III, John Michael, Brittany Alexandra, Christiana Elizabeth, and Annabel Victoria. His first wife, Sally Parker, and their two children: Amie Klemmer and Beth Bowlen Wallace. His brothers Bill and John Bowlen and sister Mary Beth Jagger.

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Pat Bowlen bought the Denver Broncos in 1984. A small market team with a small fanbase. A team that never really had a run of dominance, but had some good seasons. Of course, they had the ‘Orange Crush,’ arguably one of the best defenses of all-time in 1977, but not much else stood out with the franchise. They had just come off a playoff season, losing in the wildcard round to the Seattle Seahawks, when Pat bought the team, becoming the sixth owner of the franchise since their inception in 1960. Purchasing the team ushered in a new era and boy was it going to be a significant change.

In his time as the owner, which still runs in the family today despite stepping down from day-to-day operations and stepping out of the public eye in 2014, his standard for excellence has always been succeeded. He’s had as many Super Bowl appearances (seven) as he has had losing seasons, winning three Super Bowl Championships, back-to-back in 1998 and 1999, and Super Bowl 50 in 2016. He was the first owner ever to reach 300 hundred wins in his first 30 years, which means that his teams averaged 10 wins every year, which is an incredible amount of sustained excellence. He’s also the first owner to reach the Super Bowl with four different head coaches. His team was also the only team to win 90 games in each of the last three decades and the only AFC team to play in three Super Bowls in the 1980s. “It’s in the stats. Just look at the numbers. It’s one of the most successful winning franchises in the NFL. He doesn’t get the credit, and a lot of it is because he didn’t want the credit,” said Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis. A humble “players-owner.” You’ll hear that a lot among just about every player that’s ever come through the doors of the Broncos’ facilities.

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Former quarterback, current general manager, and Hall of Famer John Elway said, “He was a guy that was a great businessman but knew how to blend that with the personal side of it. Everybody that played for him – he had to make a lot of tough decisions. I think that he made those with the organization in mind, but also took care of the people that were on the other end of those decisions. He was always able to keep that relationship. He takes such great care of his employees and his players. That’s what he’s known for.”

Garnering personal relationships, creating connections with his players and staff that were deeper than just professional relationships. Former Indianapolis Colts and Broncos quarterback said in his statement about Bowlen’s passing that he had several small conversations with him, talking about a wide range of topics which also included things like if he had found a place to live after he had signed with the Broncos in 2012. He said in his statement, “It was an honor to play for Mr. Bowlen’s organization, as I’ve said numerous times. I always had great respect for the Denver Broncos during my time playing for the Colts competing against his organization. So much of that credit goes to Pat Bowlen and his desire to be the best and to win. That had a lot to do with me signing with the Denver Broncos – that I knew Mr. Bowlen was all about winning and I knew the people that he had hired would carry on that tradition and legacy.” Since Peyton retired in 2016, he has come to multiple offseason practices every year, mostly spectating and talking with old teammates, all because he was brought in by an owner that legitimately cared for him and the team.

The thing about Pat Bowlen is that impacted so much more than football. He more or less put the entire mountain time zone region on the map and made the Denver Broncos go from a small market team, into one of the premier franchises across the National Football League. His standard of excellence and “to be number one at everything” went beyond football in Denver. That standard stuck with the Denver Nuggets, and eventually, the Colorado Rockies as building the Broncos brand also gave brand recognition to these other Denver franchises.

While it’s a travesty it took as long as it did, Pat Bowlen was finally selected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His ability to affect the image of not only the Broncos but Denver sports; his team’s success during his tenure; and the way he helped the NFL change the game to make it better for fans are just a few of the reasons why he belongs in the ‘The Hall.’ He will be inducted alongside former Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. The first time the Broncos will have two people go into the Hall of Fame in the same year. They will also be participating in the Hall of Fame Game during the enshrinement weekend, and several of the Broncos players that got to meet and work with Pat personally will stay in Canton for the enshrinement ceremony.

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Whether it’s the incredible and frankly unprecedented numbers put up by his team after he took over the franchise. The incredible relationships he had with staff and players that are so often talked about by just about everyone in the organization. When he said “This one’s for John” after completing the repeat, winning Super Bowl 32, or even his fur coat, the impact, and memories that Pat Bowlen made while running the Broncos organization and the NFL as a whole will never ever be forgotten. Pat wanted to be “number one in everything,” and he will go down, to some, as ‘the greatest owner in sports.’ Rest in Peace Pat, heaven just got a little more orange and blue.

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