TRIBUTE: Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen Dies At 75

AFC Championship - New England Patriots v Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen at the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots on January 19, 2014 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won, 26-16, to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII.

A legend has passed.

Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen died late Thursday night after a battle with Alzheimer's disease.

He was 75.

Mr. Bowlen leaves a legacy of excellence and ran the Broncos with the goal of being the best at everything. During his tenure, the Broncos had as many Super Bowl appearances (seven) as losing seasons.

The Broncos won the Super Bowl in 1997, 1998 and 2015.

Details on his life and career can be found at the bottom of this post in the official release from the organization.

Please feel free to regularly check back as additional material will be added to this post.

 
 

KOA NewsRadio Voice of the Broncos Dave Logan joined Colorado's Morning News on Friday and reflected on Mr. Bowlen's life and passing.

 

KOA NewsRadio Broncos Insider Mike Klis was also on Colorado's Morning News on Friday.

 
 

Mr. Bowlen stepped down from day-to-day operations of the Broncos on July 23, 2014. President Joe Ellis spoke on the opening day of training camp.

 

Even then, John Elway knew things changed dramatcially.

 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Mr. Bowlen's contributions to the league were immeasurable.

 

Mr. Bowlen was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on February 2, 2019 and will be inducted in August of this year. Following the vote, Ellis said it is a well-deserved honor.

 

At the request of the Bowlen family, the Broncos longtime Director of Sports Medicine Steve Antonopulos will present Mr. Bowlen at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

 

Former Broncos running back and Hall of Famer Terrell Davis was on The Rich Eisen Show on January 30, 2019, just before Mr. Bowlen was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

BRONCOS MOURN THE LOSS OF OWNER PAT BOWLEN

      ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It is with heavy hearts and profound sadness that the Denver Broncos mourn the loss of Owner Pat Bowlen, who passed away late Thursday night at age 75 following his courageous battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

      The Broncos extend their deepest sympathies to Mr. Bowlen’s wife, Annabel, his children (Amie, Beth, Patrick, Johnny, Brittany, Annabel, Christianna) and his entire family. The organization also offers its sincere condolences to Broncos fans, Mr. Bowlen’s friends and the many individuals around the National Football League who worked with him.

      A 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame selection, Mr. Bowlen guided the Broncos during his 35-year ownership with a simple phrase: “I want to be No. 1 in everything.” He was introduced as majority owner of the Broncos on March 23, 1984, and made it clear throughout his ownership that he wanted the organization to be focused on winning and making a difference in the community.

      “Nobody is going to care whether the team is worth a billion dollars or whatever,” Bowlen once said. “That doesn’t matter. It’s more about how successful you were as an organization and as a team on the field and in the community.”

      With his immeasurable impact on the Broncos, the NFL and the community, Mr. Bowlen firmly established himself as one of the greatest contributors in professional football history.

TEAM CONTRIBUTIONS

      Affectionately referred to as “Mr. B” by many, Pat Bowlen built a culture of winning within the Broncos that resulted in unprecedented sustained success. The Broncos posted as many Super Bowl appearances (7) as losing seasons under Mr. Bowlen, including the club’s back-to-back World Championships following the 1997 and 1998 seasons and its victory in Super Bowl 50 after the 2015 season.

      The first owner in NFL history with 300 wins over his first 30 years, Mr. Bowlen frequently said that the word “rebuilding” was not in his vocabulary. He had an annual training camp tradition of predicting a 19-0 record and Super Bowl victory for the Broncos.

      “One thing that’s important to me is that we put a team on the field that can contend,” Bowlen once said. “I like to think that [the Broncos] are going to win the Super Bowl every year. I get a thrill out of that, and I know how much that means to Colorado and to Denver.”

      The Broncos averaged more than 10 wins per year during Pat Bowlen’s 35 seasons, tying for the second-best overall winning percentage of all NFL teams (.596, 354-240-1) and posting a league-high 199 regular-season home wins. Among the 123 major North American professional sports franchises (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB), only the San Antonio Spurs, New England Patriots and Los Angeles Lakers had a better overall winning percentage than the Broncos under Mr. Bowlen.

      No NFL owner during the last 35 seasons had more winning seasons (21) and playoff berths (18) than Mr. Bowlen, who helped Denver become the only team with 90+ wins over each of his first three decades of ownership. Denver posted a league-low seven losing seasons under Mr. Bowlen while being the only team to rank among the top five in wins during both the pre-free agency (1984-92, 96 wins, T-4th) and post-free agency (1993-2018, 258 wins, 4th) eras of his ownership.

      Only one owner in NFL history has presided over more Super Bowl appearances (7) than Pat Bowlen, who made it clear that winning would always be the organization’s top priority.

      “As far as the business of football, winning is everything,” Bowlen once said. “It doesn’t matter what it is worth. If you are worried about what it is worth, get into some other business.”

      Inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2015, Mr. Bowlen is the only owner in NFL history whose teams appeared in Super Bowls with four different head coaches—Dan Reeves (1986-87, ‘89), Mike Shanahan (1997-98), John Fox (2013) and Gary Kubiak (2015). This past season, he moved into fifth place in NFL history in overall wins (354) among principle owners.

      In the office and at practice most every day, Mr. Bowlen once spoke of his approach to football management by saying, “This business is unique. You have to have people you trust pick the talent and coach the talent and get out of the way. I know the bottom line is winning. I also know when and what to contribute from a leadership standpoint.”

      A testament to the success and popularity of the Broncos under Pat Bowlen, no NFL team had more home game sellouts—all 300 possible regular season and playoff games—than the Broncos during his ownership. The Broncos also played in nearly 350 nationally televised games during his ownership, including an AFC-best 132 prime-time games, with local TV ratings consistently ranking among the highest in the league.

      The Broncos’ popularity with fans under Pat Bowlen was confirmed in 2014 when the team earned the distinction of being named “America’s Team” in a national Harris Poll.

      “This is their team,” Bowlen once said when referring to the fans. “It’s not my team. I think if you manage your club well, the fans appreciate that. They have a stake in it, too.”

      Held in the highest regard by Broncos fans and around the NFL, Mr. Bowlen’s reputation was recognized in 2000 when he finished first in an ESPN poll that asked, “Which NFL owner would be the best to play for?” He also has been nominated numerous times for Executive of the Year by various media publications.

      Pat Bowlen was unwavering in his support of the thousands of players he proudly called Broncos alumni, creating the team’s Ring of Fame in 1984 as one of his first contributions as owner. Famously proclaiming, “This one’s for John,” after John Elway and the Broncos won their first Super Bowl during the 1997 season, Mr. Bowlen had a special relationship with players throughout his ownership.

      Entering the facility most days through a back entrance near the loading dock, Mr. Bowlen would first stop in the training room to visit with players and staff before heading up to his office. He shared a close friendship with many long-time staff members, including 44-year athletic trainer Steve “Greek” Antonopulos, whom the Bowlen family selected to be his presenter for his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction.

      In an effort to deflect attention and praise toward players, staff and the fans, Mr. Bowlen would often say, “It’s not about me” when asked about the success of the Broncos.

      “I would much rather operate behind the curtain and let the athletes and coaches be the entertainment,” Bowlen once said. “I think that’s the way that it should be.”

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE CONTRIBUTIONS

In addition to his indelible impact on the Denver Broncos, Pat Bowlen firmly established himself as one of the game’s greatest contributors through his tireless efforts to help grow the National Football League. As recently noted by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Mr. Bowlen was the only owner who was heavily involved in all four areas of league growth during the late 1980s and early 1990s: television, labor, stadium development and international play. 

      One of the longest-tenured owners in NFL history, Mr. Bowlen served on 15 different league committees during his time as Broncos owner—the third-most committee assignments of any owner all-time. Over the course of his career, he had the rare feat of serving as the chairman of both the prestigious NFL Broadcasting Committee and NFL Management Council Executive Committee (labor). Pat Bowlen also served on several other prominent league committees, including NFL Films (chairman), Compensation (co-chair), Pro Football Hall of Fame, NFL Network, Finance, International and Workplace Diversity.

      When other professional sports leagues struggled with labor issues and economics, Mr. Bowlen emphasized that the NFL could not lose sight of what mattered the most—the fans.

      “I think there’s a lesson there,” Bowlen once said. “It’s about the connection with the fans… There’s a lot of competition in [the market] for the sports dollar. I, and this organization, we are very cognizant of that.”

      In his role as chair of the NFL Broadcast Committee, Mr. Bowlen was a crucial part of the negotiations for the league’s $18 billion TV deal in 1998 that marked the most lucrative single-sport contract in history. His innovation and vision to grow the game on television was recently recognized by former NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, who referred to Mr. Bowlen as “the single major force in the creation of Sunday Night Football.”

      Mr. Bowlen’s efforts on the broadcasting and NFL Network committees also were instrumental in the creation and growth of NFL Network, which was launched in 2003.

      Through his work as co-chair of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee, Pat Bowlen helped ensure decades of labor peace through his impact on Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. He played a key role in the six-year extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2006 and again was part of the new CBA discussions for the 10-year extension in 2011.

      In March 2005, Mr. Bowlen noted the importance of compromise between the NFL and NFLPA to ensure labor peace.

      “I think it’s important for everybody to get it done,” Bowlen said. “We’ve had labor peace for a long time. I was on the original committee that negotiated the deal we’re now operating under… There’s going to be a lot of money in the system and in my opinion, the NFLPA and the National Football League have to look at that and say ‘OK, what’s fair?’ There’s going to be a lot of money in the system—It’s not like there won’t be enough for everybody.”

      Beyond advocating for the prosperity of the NFL in the United States, Pat Bowlen was a strong proponent of international growth. He volunteered the Broncos to play eight international games in six different countries (7 American Bowl, 1 International Series) during his ownership, marking the third-most such games in league history.

COMMUNITY CONTRIBUTIONS

      Inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, Pat Bowlen’s championship mentality included an extraordinary commitment to the community. He felt a strong responsibility for the organization to be invested in the Rocky Mountain Region, once saying, “It’s important to me that this organization lives up to the high reputation and that people connect the Denver Broncos with Colorado.”

      As chairman of the board of Denver Broncos Charities, Mr. Bowlen donated more than $35 million to charitable organizations in the Denver area since the inception of that fund in 1993. His status and reputation as an owner were recognized locally in 2013 when he received the Mizel Institute Community Enrichment Award, the region’s most prestigious philanthropic accolade, for his community leadership and commitment to the city of Denver and state of Colorado.

      The longest-tenured owner in Colorado sports history, Pat Bowlen was the only owner in professional sports whose team fully funded its own branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Opening its doors in 2003, the Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club recently celebrated its 15th season impacting youth.

      Mr. Bowlen helped the Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club expand in 2008 with the addition of the Darrent Williams Memorial Teen Center, which is named in honor of the late Broncos cornerback who died in 2007. His long-standing commitment to the Boys & Girls Club was recognized in 2017 when a youth development park in Commerce City, Colo., was dedicated as “Pat Bowlen Field.”

      In addition to his own philanthropic outreach, Pat Bowlen was a strong supporter of the players serving as positive role models and giving back to the community.

“The league is a big influence on young people’s lives, and we’ve got to set an example,” Bowlen once said.

“The players are where it starts. Nobody cares about Pat Bowlen—I don’t even register on the meter. These young football players are looked up to by lots of younger people, and they have to make sure they’re sending the right message. And we’ll do everything we can to help them understand that.”

      Taking great pride in calling Denver his home, Mr. Bowlen was inducted into the VISIT Denver Tourism Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Colorado Business Hall of Fame in 2015 for his unwavering commitment toward the region. A University of Denver Board of Trustees member, Mr. Bowlen in 2010 donated $1.5 million toward a new training center for the school’s athletics department that is named “The Pat Bowlen Training Center.”

      “I call it sort of a Western mentality,” Bowlen once said. “We’re proud to be Coloradoans and we’re proud to live in Denver. We really stick up for our city and we really stick up for our sports teams.”

      Although Mr. Bowlen had a reduced role with the Broncos in recent seasons as he focused on his battle with Alzheimer’s disease, he continued to have a positive impact on the community. The public announcement of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in July 2014 has helped raise awareness and funds for a disease that currently affects more than 5.8 million Americans.

      The Broncos have joined with the Bowlen family in taking an active role in the Alzheimer’s community following Mr. Bowlen’s diagnosis, including the team adding the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter as a flagship community partner. Led by Pat Bowlen’s wife, Annabel, the Bowlen family and the Broncos, “Team Super Bowlen” has raised nearly $500,000 during the last five “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” in Denver.

      The Broncos this past season hosted their inaugural “Alzheimer’s Awareness Day” at UCHealth Training Center during a training camp practice, encouraging all fans to wear purple in support of the Bowlen family and many others affected by Alzheimer’s. The event raised more than $40,000 as the largest fundraising day ever for the “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” in Colorado.

PERSONAL

      Pat Bowlen’s impact on the Denver sports landscape extended beyond the Broncos as he helped bring a pair of professional sports franchises to the city.

      He served as a part owner of the Arena Football League’s Colorado Crush from their inaugural season in 2003 through 2008 with that franchise making five consecutive playoff appearances (‘04-08), including its ArenaBowl XIX win in 2005. Mr. Bowlen brought Major League Lacrosse to Denver in 2006 when he founded the Denver Outlaws, which have advanced to the championship game eight times and won three titles (2014, ‘16 and ‘18).

      A dedicated athlete and competitor, Pat Bowlen maintained an active lifestyle throughout his entire life. He competed in numerous marathons and triathlons, including the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii—an event in which one must swim 2.4 ocean miles, ride 112 miles on a bicycle and run 26.2 miles, all consecutively.

      In February 1984, Mr. Bowlen finished 135th out of 1,100 entrants in the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii, where he maintained a home on Oahu.

      Born on Feb. 18, 1944, in Prairie du Chien, Wis., Pat Bowlen attended Campion High School in Prairie du Chien, competing on its football, hockey and track teams. He attended the University of Oklahoma, where he played freshman football (wide receiver) and went on to earn degrees in both business (1965) and law (1968).

      Mr. Bowlen, who played defensive back for the Edmonton Huskies of the Canadian Junior Football League in 1962 and was part of the club’s first national championship (Little Grey Cup), began a law practice in Edmonton after graduating college. After successful careers in oil, gas and real estate in Canada, he went on to purchase the Denver Broncos in 1984.

      “In my late 30s, I got serious about doing something different,” Bowlen once said. “I wanted to be deeply involved in an exciting people business of some kind.”

      Introduced as the Broncos’ owner at a press conference on March 23, 1984, Bowlen immediately demonstrated his humility and singular focus on the Broncos that would help define his 35-year Pro Football Hall of Fame career.

      “I’m not involved in football for ego gratification or for the publicity that surrounds it,” he said that day. “I’m involved in it for a career.”

***

STATEMENT FROM DENVER BRONCOS PRESIDENT & CEO JOE ELLIS

      “This is a very sad day for our organization, our community and the National Football League. Pat Bowlen was the heart and soul of the Denver Broncos. Not only was Pat a Hall of Fame owner—He was a Hall of Fame person. His competitiveness, kindness and humility are the qualities that I will always remember. Even during his battle with Alzheimer’s, you could still see that same strength and dignity in Pat that he brought to the office every single day for more than 30 years.

      “Pat was the driving force in establishing the championship culture of the Broncos. He was also an extraordinary leader at the league level during a key period of growth. It wasn’t all about what Pat did as an owner, but it was the way he did it. The relationships he enjoyed with his players were real and sincere. Pat truly cared about the players in a very genuine way and always wanted them to get the credit. He preferred to be in the background and put every resource toward winning Super Bowls. With the fans, Pat felt in many ways that his team belonged to them and approached things with that in mind. There will never be another owner like Pat Bowlen. My heart goes out to his wife, Annabel, all of his children and all of our fans.”

STATEMENT FROM NFL COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL ON THE PASSING OF PAT BOWLEN

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

06/14/19 

Pat was driven by the will to succeed and his competitive spirit made him a great leader. We all will greatly miss him and his kindness, passion and wisdom. 

Pat had a deep love for the game of football, the Broncos and the City of Denver. In the 35 years he owned the Broncos, he helped deliver a remarkable 21 winning seasons and seven Super Bowl appearances, including three titles.

Our league is also better because of Pat's extraordinary contributions. As co-chair of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee and the chair of the NFL Broadcasting Committee, Pat played an instrumental role in many facets of our League that benefited fans, players and clubs.

Pat personified all that's right about the NFL and is extremely deserving of this summer's recognition as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

We send our deepest condolences to Annabel, the Bowlen family and Broncos' fans in Denver and around the world."

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