In the icon-loving world of professional sports, with its focus on star players and “winningest” coaches, team owners are usually relegated to backstage roles: Those whose big bucks allow them to enjoy the rarified status of ownership, ready access to the team’s celebrity rosters and perhaps a chance to hoist a trophy if the team makes it to the top.
Pat Bowlen, majority owner of the Denver Broncos for 30 remarkable seasons, fit that profile in many ways. An understated and modest personality, he was content to let figures like Dan Reeves, John Elway, Mike Shanahan, Peyton Manning and Von Miller get all the attention while he basked in the glow of it all, only occasionally taking center stage himself.
But the sterling record achieved by his team during his tenure — three Super Bowl championships, 13 AFC West titles, 21 winning seasons, 18 playoff appearances, 333 regular season victories — testifies to his “be number one in everything” philosophy.
Although Bowlen was wise enough to let his coaches and players do most of the hands-on work when it came to actual football, he infused the team with that winning philosophy in virtually every aspect of its operations. That he was a patient and caring father figure to the Broncos was very evident this week in the emotional and affectionate tributes offered by many of the athletes who played for him. But Bowlen was a father figure with high expectations of his professional sons, who, more often than not, met those expectations.
Bowlen richly deserves his place on the Ring of Fame at Broncos Stadium — a tradition he himself created in 1984 — and his impending induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, since his innovation, dedication and positive spirit were greatly beneficial to pro football in general.
No less than these, he deserves the gratitude of the people of Denver and Colorado, football fans and non-fans alike, for his visionary philanthropy, his sense of civic pride and the sheer happiness he and his teams brought to the region.
As they say, everybody loves a winner and Pat Bowlen most certainly was that.