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Volume 26 No. 177
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Pat Bowlen Remembered For Wide-Reaching Impact On Broncos, NFL

Bowlen was the first owner in football history to reach 300 overall wins in his first 30 years
Photo: getty images
Bowlen was the first owner in football history to reach 300 overall wins in his first 30 years
Photo: getty images
Bowlen was the first owner in football history to reach 300 overall wins in his first 30 years
Photo: getty images

Broncos Owner PAT BOWLEN died at the age of 75 at his home in Colorado "after years of battling Alzheimer’s disease" and just two months before he was "set to be enshrined" in the Pro Football HOF, according to Nicki Jhabvala of THE ATHLETIC. Bowlen was the "rare NFL owner who mixed competitiveness and compassion to turn the once-floundering Broncos into one of the NFL’s marquee franchises." Since '14, Bowlen had "stayed out of the public eye as the disease ran its course, suffering multiple complications in his final years as he remained in Colorado by his family’s side and mere miles" from the team’s Englewood HQ. But his presence with the Broncos "was always felt." During his 35-year ownership, the team "had as many Super Bowl appearances (seven) as losing seasons." Bowlen was the "first owner in pro football history to reach 300 overall wins in his first 30 years, and he’s the only owner in NFL history to reach Super Bowls with four different head coaches." Bowlen "set the benchmark of success not just among Colorado’s pro sports franchises but all American sports teams." In '13, Bowlen "formally filed with the league to relinquish day-to-day control of the team because of the progression of Alzheimer’s." Over the past year, a "brewing dispute over the trustees' management of Bowlen’s estate and over his succession plan has spawned a lawsuit" as the "future controlling owner of the Broncos is for now uncertain" (THEATHLETIC.com, 6/14).

HIS OWN MAN: In N.Y., Ken Belson writes Bowlen throughout his tenure was a "hands-on owner with a personal flair that reflected his youth and bravado in a league dominated by multigenerational families and businessmen who bought teams decades after they made their fortunes." He walked the sideline "before games in a cowboy hat and fur coats, signatures that made him a quasi-celebrity." Bowlen "claimed to be publicity-shy, but that did not stop him from being active in nearly every aspect of the club" (NYTIMES.com, 6/14). In Denver, Ryan O'Halloran writes Bowlen's leadership style was "equal parts understated and demanding -- he stayed in the background and reveled in others receiving the public credit." But he "always wanted to be kept abreast of the Broncos’ plans, on and off the field." Bowlen’s commitment to winning via "financial resources and loyalty created a climate of accountability" (DENVERPOST.com, 6/14). The AP's Arnie Stapleton writes Bowlen "relished working behind the scenes and shied away from the spotlight." He had a "deep appreciation for his players, whether or not they were stars, and it's not unusual to see ex-Broncos watching practice" (AP, 6/14).

LEAGUE IMPACT: THE ATHLETIC's Jhabvala notes as Bowlen "transformed the Broncos, he also transformed the NFL." He served a "combined 91 seasons on 15 NFL committees, including chairing the league’s broadcast and management council executive committees." Only the late DAN ROONEY (18) and LAMAR HUNT (16) "served more." In '93, Bowlen and Cowboys Owner JERRY JONES "brokered a record TV deal that put the NFL on track to become the most lucrative sports product in American television." In '98, Bowlen "went to work again to secure" a $18B TV contract for the NFL that was then the "most lucrative single-sport contract in history" (THEATHLETIC.com, 6/14). The DENVER POST's O'Halloran writes Bowlen's "greatest television achievement, and maybe his greatest league-level accomplishment, was working" with DICK EBERSOL on an NBC/Sunday night package that "included a schedule superior to Monday night and introduced flexible scheduling." NBC's "SNF" has been America’s "top-rated program for eight consecutive years." In the area of labor, Bowlen "represented an even-keel voice that the players’ side respected." Internationally, Bowlen "pushed to expand the NFL’s reach" (DENVERPOST.com, 6/14).

DOING MORE: ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold writes Bowlen, through Broncos charities, donated more than $30M to local charities, including the "funding for the Denver Broncos Boys and Girls Club, making the Broncos the only professional franchise to fully fund a Boys and Girls Club" (ESPN.com, 6/14).