When Pat Bowlen took ownership of the Denver Broncos in 1984, it wasn’t just a business endeavor. It was the development of something more permanent and everlasting — the establishment of the league’s greatest and historic football families.
Immediately upon becoming owner, Bowlen took one of his first and perhaps largest steps in cementing his legacy as one of the game’s most influential and personable figures.
One of Bowlen’s first actions was to create the Ring of Fame, which honors former players and administrators whose contributions to the franchise considered essential and timeless. The Ring of Fame is a testament to his kindness and deep appreciation for those who have helped the Broncos become one of the pinnacle franchises in all of sports. It wasn’t something he had to do, but he did it. From the moment he stepped into his office at Broncos’ headquarters, Bowlen was crystal clear in creating a culture that established that his players and employees were the most important pillars in the franchise’s foundation.
In an exclusive interview with Mile High Report’s Ian St. Clair, current President and CEO of the Broncos Joe Ellis depicted the special relationship Bowlen had with his players.
“I think the other thing that set him apart as an owner here, and the National Football League, is that his relationship with his players was real and it was sincere. It was not manufactured. It was not fabricated. He cared for his players. He communicated with them in a manner that made them understand clearly that he cared for his players,” stated Ellis.
Football is a business, and most certainly, tough decisions are made in order to ensure success and longevity of a sports franchise. Players, coaches, staff and employees come and go, but Bowlen’s deep appreciation of them never wavered. He was thankful for every single one of them. Truly, those who were fortunate enough to work alongside and play for Bowlen were treated like and became members of his family.
“Sometimes that’s not always the case around sports. But Pat took an interest in them. He respected the work that they had done in their young lives to get to where they had gotten. He realized how tough, how hard their profession was, and he was very respective and sensitive to that. It was genuine. It was real. And I think that really sets him apart as an owner,” Ellis went on to add.
Ellis’ comments were reinforced by Broncos legend and 2005 Ring of Fame inductee Steve Atwater, who also shared his thoughts on the type of man Bowlen was in an exclusive interview with St. Clair. Atwater praised Bowlen’s first-class attitude, his teachings and fostering a professional environment that emphasized respect.
“He’s a wonderful man and the way that he ran the organization, the culture that he created here was one that everyone respected everyone else,” stated Atwater.
“All of our coaches treated us with respect and coached us in a way that made us really want to go out and play our hardest. You didn’t want to leave anything on the line because they not only were our coaches, but they actually cared about us as people.”
That is rare attitude achieved in the tulmoltuous and business-oriented atmosphere of professional sports, where it isn’t uncommon for players and staff to feel disconnected and isolated from those in management. That welcome breath a fresh air is something Atwater credits to Bowlen.
“And I got that all the way from the top from Mr. Bowlen. And I think that continues to this day. The culture he created is one where people care about each other, and I think when you care about each other you tend to go a little bit further than you would for someone who you really don’t care about or you feel like they don’t care about you,” remarked Atwater.
For over three decades, Bowlen has dedicated every fiber of his being to ensure the the holistic success of everyone involved in the franchise. He has gone above and beyond what anyone could ever ask of him as an owner — and even as a friend. Those closest to him know the content of his character, and recognize the thoughtfulness and charity he has bestowed upon our beloved franchise, the city of Denver, the state of Colorado and the entire National Football League.
Very few owners in sports can or will ever be able to achieve what Bowlen has in his three decade leadership with the Broncos. It’s not even debatable — Pat Bowlen is one of the greatest and most iconic and influential owners in sports history. In 2015, Bowlen’s contributions to the Broncos were finally honored, and he rightfully earned his passage into the team’s Ring of Fame that he had created out of the goodness of his heart thirty-one years earlier.
But that isn’t enough. It’s time for Bowlen’s legacy to forever be etched in the annals of football history. That can only be done with his well-deserved and long overdue enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — a family he unequivocally deserves to be a part of.