A lion in the board room, on the field and in the Denver community, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen passed away late Thursday night after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 75.
In a statement released by the Broncos, the Bowlen family said their “beloved husband and father … passed on to the next chapter of his life late Thursday night peacefully at home surrounded by family.”
“Heaven got a little bit more orange and blue tonight,” the statement said.
The family also expressed gratitude for the “outpouring of support” its patriarch had received in recent years after his Alzheimer’s diagnoses was revealed in July 2014.
And in the same spirit as Pat Bowlen’s generosity to the greater Denver and Broncos community, the club and his family have help to raise awareness and money about the disease, which affects more than 5.8 million Americans.
In the past five years since the unveiling of Bowlen’s diagnosis, his family and the Broncos organization have raised nearly $500,000 because of their efforts with the Denver “Walk to End Alzheimer’s.” And during training camp this past August, the team raised more than $40,000 during its inaugural “Alzheimer’s Awareness Day.”
During his reign atop one of the National Football League’s flagship organizations, the soon-to-be Pro Football Hall of Famer’s excellence on the field was only paralleled by his work within the league itself and in the community in which he lived.
Since being introduced as the majority owner of the Broncos in March 1984, Bowlen’s teams have enjoyed extraordinary success on the field.
Over the past three-plus decades, the Broncos have won seven AFC Championships under Bowlen (1986, 1987, 1989, 1997, 1998, 2013 and 2015), along with three Super Bowl Championships — including back-to-back wins in 1997 and 1998 to become just the sixth NFL team to do so.
During Bowlen’s 35 years at the helm of the Broncos:
– He became the first owner with 300 wins in his first 30 years
– The Broncos averaged more than 10 wins per year
– Denver tied for the second-best overall winning percentage of all NFL teams (.596, 354-240-1)
– The club posted a league-high 199 regular season wins
– Only the San Antonio Spurs, New England Patriots and Los Angeles Lakers had better overall winning percentages than the Broncos out of all 123 major North American sports franchises (NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB)
– No NFL owner has had more winning seasons (21) and playoff berths (18)
– Denver posted an NFL-low seven losing seasons
– Only one NFL owner presided over more Super Bowl appearances than his seven
With sterling on-field accolades, Bowlen’s impact can also be felt within the league itself.
Bowlen served as a key figure among the NFL labor and TV contracts, including negotiating the league’s $18 billion television deal, among the most lucrative in history, as the chair of the NFL Broadcast Committee.
He also served as co-chair of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee, the NFL Compensation Committee, the NFL Network Committee, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Committee, the NFL Business Ventures Committee, the NFL Finance Committee, the Los Angeles Working Group Committee, and the NFL Workplace Diversity Committee.
Perhaps his most long-lasting legacy, however, will remain with the Denver community itself.
In his role as the chairman of the board of Denver Broncos Charities, Bowlen’s overseen the donation of nearly $30 million to area organizations since the fund’s inception in 1993.
Bowlen received one the region’s most prestigious philanthropic honors, the Mizel Institute Community Enrichment Award, in 2013, and his name graces a youth development park in Commerce City thanks to his decades-long commitment to funding the Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club.
For 19 years Bowlen served as the honorary chairman of the Colorado Special Olympics, and he’s served in the same role for three decades with the Stadium Stampede (formerly the Colorado Family Classic) to benefit St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation.
“Not only was Pat a Hall of Fame owner, he was a Hall of Fame person. His competitiveness, kindness and humility are the qualities that I will always remember,” said Broncos CEO and president Joe Ellis in a statement. “Even during his battle with Alzheimer’s, you could still see that same strength and dignity in Pat that he brought to the office every single day for more than 30 years.”
Born and raised in Praire du Chien, Wisconsin, Bowlen went on to earn degrees in both business and law from the University of Oklahoma before moving on to a successful career in oil, gas, and real estate.
A fierce competitor in the board room and on the field, Bowlen also competed in endurance events throughout his life, including the Ironman Triathlon, in which competitors swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 miles on a bicycle, and run a full marathon (26.2 miles) consecutively.