Joe Ellis recounted a story during his news conference Monday about Pat Bowlen “enjoying” watching a Broncos game.
Ellis noted that he always considered it “his job” to give Mr. B some positive comments about the time on the clock, where the Broncos stood, etc., as they watched the games together.
“I sort of felt it was my job to inform him of how much time was on the clock and if we could get three more first downs we’d be in good shape if we were up by 10, and things like that,” Ellis said.
So during the first game of the 2008 season, they were sitting together watching the Broncos whip up on the Raiders, jumping out to a big lead and eventually winning 41-14.
It was the third quarter and the Broncos were leading 27-0 and Ellis told Bowlen he could “enjoy” this game; it wasn’t like the usual close-wins the Broncos tended to produce.
“I said, ‘Pat, we can actually enjoy this game. I don’t recall a game—’ and he stopped me mid-sentence and said, ‘Let me tell you how many games I’ve enjoyed over the years. I’ve got this anxiety level and until the gun sounds, it’s never over. But I can count on one hand’—and he puts up five fingers—’how many games I actually recall that I can fully enjoy. Tonight’s one of them.’”
Incredible display being built honoring Mr. Bowlen’s life and career for Tuesday’s open-house public tribute at @broncosstadium.— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) June 17, 2019
Fans are encouraged to stop by any time Tuesday between 10 a.m.-3 p.m. to view 100s of pieces of memorabilia and pay respects to the Bowlen family. pic.twitter.com/qByLuEJhPf
We all know that anxiety, and that’s what made Bowlen so great. He was actually one of us at heart - just a fan.
“Pat had those binoculars to his eyes with fire burning through them until the gun sounded,” Ellis said, adding that after the Broncos won a game, the owner really enjoyed being with the players. “Then, he was great. He really celebrated these victories with the team.”
That was definitely something that stood out to John Elway, who played for Bowlen almost his entire career and then worked for him since joining the front office in 2011.
“I think that the one thing about Pat when I think about him and this football team was he ran this football team with his heart and not his pocketbook,” Elway said, noting that players always felt that. “I think that was evident when he was out there at practice all of the time. As a player, there is nothing that means more than when your owner, the main boss, is out there at practice every single day. There’s nothing that makes it more important to you than him being out there because if it’s that important to him then it rubbed off on us as players. [He was] just a tremendous guy to play for.”
And it’s that spirit that is driving some of Elway’s own impatience to get the Broncos back to a championship-caliber team Bowlen would be proud of because that was always the standard for Bowlen - winning.
“He wants to be No. 1 at everything. ...Bottom line is we’ve got to be competitive and we’ve got to compete for championships. Nothing else works,” Elway said. “The standards have not been met the last couple of years without a doubt, so there’s no question that this is a big year for us. We understand that, but also again going back to the same thing that we were talking about is the standards that have been set here and Pat would be very disappointed in it. It is our job to get it turned around and that does add more motivation.”
Bowlen is also the tiny voice in Elway’s head, guiding his decision-making.
“Every decision that I make is based off what Pat would do and what’s the best decision for the Denver Broncos,” the GM said. “It’s not my personal opinion or anybody else’s that’s the common denominator when you think about decisions being made. It’s what’s best for the Denver Broncos. ...Pat Bowlen made the Denver Broncos and he set that standard, so everything is based off that.”
An aspect of Bowlen’s leadership that hasn’t been seen by fans but is certainly evident in Mr. B’s popularity among his players and his employees was his ability to listen. Elway noted that Bowlen was very “instinctual” because of it.
“The reason I think he was so good at that was because he wasn’t the one doing the talking. He was listening,” Elway said. “By listening, he always got a really good feel for people and directions. ...He’d ask questions and you’d give it to him and he’d continue to ask questions because of all of the knowledge he wanted to gain from it. I think when I looked at that and I looked at the leadership side of it how important it is to be able to listen—I’m going to say that was the most important thing.”
But of course, the memory that will stick with Elway the most - which is the same memory for most fans - was Bowlen raising the Lombardi and saying “This one’s for John!”
“He had been through those three [Super Bowl] losses and [ I know] how much those three losses hurt. I think it hurt him as much as it hurt us as players, so to finally be able to win that one against Green Bay, I think was a very special time to kind of say that we got there” Elway said, recalling his hug from Bowlen in the locker room after the victory. “I think we were the last ones out of the locker room too. That was the most special time because with him raising the trophy saying, ‘This one’s for John’, it was almost overwhelming because it was a surprise to me. I just know just how much everybody on that football team—how hard it was. I don’t have the words, the adjective to explain my feeling when he did that.”
But he did get say it for his beloved owner 18 years later.
“As [Bowlen] said when he introduced me when I was coming back as the GM that ‘Maybe one day he’ll say, This one’s for Pat,’” Elway said. “That was my goal when I took the job and for us to be able to win Super Bowl 50 for him and be able to return that favor was also very much a highlight and something I’ll always remember.”
For the full news conferences, check out the First and 10 @ 10 show with Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright today: