John Elway reflects on Bronco’s owner Pat Bowlen stepping aside

By Troy E. Renck
The Denver Post

Posted:   07/24/2014 12:01:00 AM MDT1 Comment | Updated:   about 6 hours ago


The iconic image in Colorado sports history caught John Elway off guard. Elway spent his career providing goose bumps, comebacks, face palms and victories. It never dawned on him that he would be remembered for something someone said more than something he did.

On Jan. 25, 1998, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen stood on the podium at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego after his team’s improbable 31-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. In one sentence, Bowlen summed up the improbable, agonizing journey to delirium.

“This one’s for John!”

On Wednesday — a day of heartache at Dove Valley after Bowlen’s step down from his position because of an ongoing battle with Alzheimer’s disease — Elway reflected on the franchise’s defining moment.

“It was a surprise to me when he said that, but it was probably the most humbling, thrilled feeling I’ve ever had in my life when we were finally able to win that championship and Pat handed me that trophy,” Elway said. “So there will never be a more special time because we’d been working on it for 15 years, and Pat had been here for 14 years. That was the highlight of my career.”

Elway hasn’t played since 1999, when he won his second Super Bowl ring. He returned to the Broncos in 2011, knowing of Bowlen’s faith in him and, privately, his friend’s deteriorating health.

Wednesday, the day after Bowlen’s decision was announced, still came too soon. Elway, fighting back tears, sat before the media at the annual training camp barbecue, clobbered by the reality of Bowlen’s absence.

“What a sad day it is around here,” Elway said, before pausing for 26 seconds to compose himself. “This place will never be the same.”

Watch: John Elway talks about Pat Bowlen stepping down

Bowlen ceded much of the daily business to team president Joe Ellis in 2011, while entrusting Elway to rebuild the football operations that same year. Bowlen didn’t meddle, but provided subtle pressure through tough questions after learning the game through conversations with former Broncos assistants Jack Elway and Jerry Frei.

Ellis and Elway reveled in the give-and-take, recognizing that it was the intelligence and vision of “Mr. B” that created the team’s standard for excellence. Bowlen no longer will occupy his days at the team’s Dove Valley headquarters. This was anticipated over the past few months, but the reality shook Elway.

“He has given me so much. It’s going to be hard to walk through those doors and not see him,” Elway said.

Elway said there are no plans for him to own the team. Bowlen, 70, has placed his Broncos’ ownership in the Pat Bowlen Trust. His desire remains for one of his seven children “to earn the right to run the franchise someday,” Ellis said.

John Elway talks about Pat Bowlen

John Elway talks about Pat Bowlen at a press conference at Dove Valley, Wednesday afternoon, July 23, 2014. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)

Bowlen’s legacy is secure, his accomplishments beyond the imagination of many sports franchises that aspire only to reach the playoffs. During his 30-year stewardship, the Broncos advanced to six Super Bowls, second only to New England. Their winning percentage ranks behind only the San Francisco 49ers. Denver has only five losing seasons since 1984, when Bowlen purchased the team for $78 million.

“He absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame,” Elway said, repeating the stance of Ellis and coach John Fox. “And I hope that his bust is next to mine (in Canton).”

Elway and Bowlen have overlapped for two decades with the Broncos, a partnership nearly unrivaled in the NFL. When the Broncos went 4-12 in 2010, Bowlen admitted his mistake in hiring unproven Josh McDaniels and turned to Elway for help. The two worked together in Elway’s successful foray into the Arena Football League. But the former brash quarterback wasn’t convinced he was cut out for a front-office post.

“There’s always a little bit of doubt there, especially when you don’t have any experience. To have the confidence that he had in me to be able to afford me the responsibilities that he afforded me with the Broncos — he was the one who thought I was ready,” Elway said. “That’s one great thing that Pat had. He made decisions and had tremendous instincts. Somehow you don’t know how he got there, but his instincts were tremendous. When he told me, ‘You’re ready and you can handle this job,’ that was the final say and what got me over the hump.”

Bowlen leaves a team built to contend for a championship. His desire to win shaped every decision. He struck a rare balance of power, appointing and empowering his employees. He held them accountable without infringing on their authority. He also rewarded them, no praise more memorable than his eloquent gesture after the Broncos’ victory over the Packers.

“No. I really didn’t see it coming,” Elway said. “Heck, I threw for 130 yards. So, yeah, I didn’t see it.”

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11 Responses to “John Elway reflects on Bronco’s owner Pat Bowlen stepping aside”

  1. andrea says:

    I feel very sad for the Bowlen family. The disease Pat Bowlen has is terrible. I have an elderly aunt who has this disease. She lost all of her memory years ago and just keeps going through different stages – talks all the time then is silent for awhile – always says she wants to go home(even when she is home). My cousin has to lock all the doors because if she opens the door -away she goes. The police in the neighborhood have returned her to the house a couple of times. Right now she has gone into a mean streak where she will hit people.

    Terrible ,terrible disease – even as much as I despise John Elway I wouldn’t wish it on him or his family.

    • Sage says:

      Honestly, I like to think that in his younger, stronger years, Pat Bowlen would have been a Tebow backer.

      The reason why I loved the Broncos dearly for 35 years was that they seemed, to me, innovative, patient, and willing to take risks, among other things. Running Tebow out of town was in marked contrast to the class and resourcefulness that the team showed during the years I watched, between 1976 and 2011.

      Although I can only speculate, it may be that it was Bowlen’s minders who caused the team to misstep so badly in the last several years.

      The Broncos may win lots of games with Manning, but to me they Broncos and their fans have lost their soul.

      • Sage says:

        Like McDaniels or hate him, the Broncos act of hiring and firing him over two seasons was just as bush-league as what the Raiders did to Mike Shanahan back in the day.

        And I’d have kept Shanahan another year or two, giving him some notice that his leash was being tightened.

      • ck says:

        Believe you are right, Sage. Respect your insight due to all the years invested as a loyal fan and then knowing clearly when to draw the line…first paragraph nailed it!
        Liked the Broncos before Elrot came and destroyed what T2 helped bring about w/real leadership skills…a winning football team!

    • tawk2 says:

      I agree andrea, my husband lost his grandmother last year to this awful disease. She was sick for such a very long time, she was in her 90’s when she passed. No one should have to suffer through this, it’s not only horrible for the patient but for the family as well.

      On a different note training camps are open all over, I keep praying Tim will be picked up, but deep down I wonder if any team will go against the grain and take a chance. It makes me so angry that the media and the NFL can ruin Tim chances like this, he has so much to offer a team. Hopefully all our prayers including Tim”s will be answered sooner than later.

      • ck says:

        Tawk2: Share your sentiments regarding training camp…sorry to hear of your loss and Andreas. Wish President Reagan who was a “GREAT PRESIDENT” could have been helped!!!

    • ck says:

      Andrea: I despise Elrot too and not all people deserve the circumstances that happen in life; although, people without a conscience and no regard for what they perpetrate on others come close impo!!! God said you had to love people, but you don’t have to like what they do!!!

  2. ck says:

    I wonder if Elrot will finally realize that his actions have consequences and what if any conscience exists regarding his low class dealings…hmmmmmm! Very sad for Bowlen as he got involved w/Elrot and can only imagine what is in store for Elrot who cares not at all about the impact of his rotten behavior that is blatantly showcased in his personal and so-called professional dealings! Especially in light of his son having been recently arrested and now this comes out with the person he was trying to win another Super Bowl for who has ceased to exist! How he (Elrot) deserves any sympathy for this type of character flaw is beyond me; however, it is certainly sad that Bowlen suffered for making mostly regretful decisions due to his disease; i.e., hiring Elrot and letting a franchise QB such as T2 be treated the way Elrot manipulated behind the scenes and despicably acted to trade someone who was his rival and better at succeeding no matter the obstacles because he happened to actually live up to Bowlen’s own motto: “If you aint winning, the people aint coming”/T2 WINNING = FAN BASE!!! What is more than sad is how he thinks he is going to get away with all of this C-R-A-P?!!! He should have stayed in Arena Football like the “used car salesman” he so aptly personifies impo!:(
    Agree, Sage, that in his right mind believe that Bowlen would have kept T2 and probably done the right thing instead of letting Elrot run things into the ground as he has done!!!
    (Would like to hear what Buzzy thinks…)

  3. tawk2 says:

    Just found this story if you have not already read it, Tim is mentioned in it. Here is the link

    • ck says:

      Tawk2: Thanks for finding that really positive article and also like Addazio’s point of view! Read all of the comments and that Gary Schneider is absolutely right impo.

  4. ck says:

    Here are some comments found in reference to espn post above:
    Gary Schneider states: “Tim has the “IT” factor. I think Tim is not playing mostly because the coaches and GM’s are afraid of his immense popularity. They want to be in control of the team and Tim’s popularity makes it hard to be totally in charge. Really has nothing to do with Tim’s mechanics at all.
    In response to accuracy issues, he stated: That is the reason those who don’t like him use. Tim was consistently more accurate than John Elway and Peyton Manning in their first 16 games. He simply has not been given a chance to improve in that area. Tim has been working out 5 days a week for 5 hours a day for almost a year now with Tom House, Tom House said that Tim Tebow needed to improve his mechanics 25% when he first arrived. Tom House now says that Tim is down to about 1% or 2% with his mechanical flaws. In other words, in Tom House’s opinion, who is the same accuracy coach that Tom Brady uses and is considered one of the foremost experts in improving the mechanics of all athletes in the world, so I will take his word that Tim Tebow has vastly improved his mechanics. All Tim needs now is a chance to prove that out in the field. If I was in a position to give Tim a chance, I would do it.
    Jessie Kropp states: “Yes, Gary, you are exactly right. No other NFL player in history has ever drawn a bigger crowd for just a practice. Also, no player has ever sold more jerseys.”
    Ryan Norris states: Gary, I agree totally with ur statement!!! Makes me sick coaches, GM’s, and owners won’t put their egos aside!!!

    Looks like Brandi is vindicated and believe this to be the case as well!!!

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