In Denver, Pat Bowlen Leaves a Legacy of Unprecedented Success

The long-time Broncos owner, who died Thursday night, molded his team into one of the most successful franchises across all sports.
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Michael Shapiro contributed to this story

Leaving a legacy as one of the most successful team owners in the history of the NFL, as well as the man who established the Denver Broncos as one of the league's vanguard franchises, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen died Thursday night at 75 after a years-long battle with Alzheimer's disease, the team said in a statement.

“We are saddened to inform everyone that our beloved husband and father, Pat Bowlen, passed on to the next chapter of his life late Thursday night peacefully at home surrounded by family,” the Bowlen family said in a statement. “His soul will live on through the Broncos, the city of Denver and all of our fans.”

Since Bowlen purchased the team in 1984, the Broncos have had as many Super Bowl appearances as losing seasons (7) and Bowlen became the first owner in league history to reach 300 wins in his first 30 seasons. The Broncos claimed their first Super Bowl victories in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, with eventual Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, and added another Lombardi trophy in 2015 with Peyton Manning at quarterback and Elway as general manager. Bowlen passed just weeks before his eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, this coming August.

“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.”

Still, the rise of Bowlen's Broncos from postseason neophytes in a city with fewer citizens than Memphis, San Jose and Columbus, to a powerhouse valued at $2.65 billion in Forbes' 2018 NFL valuations—11th highest in the league—cannot be understated.

“Pat Bowlen was driven by the will to succeed and his competitive spirit made him a great leader,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote on Twitter on Friday. “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.

“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 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.”

Goodell's full attention now turns to the Broncos fluid ownership situation, now in the hands of a judge handling a lawsuit filed by Pat Bowlen’s brother, Bill, alleging that the three trustees appointed by the late owner to decide who among Bowlen’s children will next own the team has not acted in accordance with their charge. District Judge Charles M. Pratt in March declined a motion from Bill Bowlen to close the door on arbitration by the NFL. Goodell then appointed former NFL executive Carmen Policy to arbitrate the dispute.

One of Pat's seven children, 29-year-old Brittany Bowlen, is considered the frontrunner to land the role, and team president Joe Ellis says she's going to be hired in a senior position in the organization at some time in the next year.

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