Even without his presence, Pat Bowlen remained present Wednesday as the Broncos held their annual training camp media barbecue. Bowlen stepped down as owner Wednesday, focusing on his battle with Alzheimer's disease, leaving an unmistakable void.
General manager John Elway, who has known Bowlen for three decades, fought his emotions, pausing for several seconds as he discussed the team's transition without their successful leader.
"It's a sad, sad day. From the inside out, it will never be the same here," Elway said.
Bowlen ceded much of the daily operations to team president Joe Ellis over the last few seasons. However, Bowlen will no longer occupy his days at the team's Dove Valley headquarters. It was expected, but remains jarring nonetheless.
"He has given me so much. It's going to be hard to walk through those doors and not see him," Elway said.
Bowlen, 70, has placed his Broncos' ownership in the Pat Bowlen Trust. His desire is for one of his seven children "to earn the right to run the franchise someday," Ellis said. Bowlen ranks as one of the top owners in pro sports with Ellis, Elway and coach John Fox all stressing that Bowlen "absolutely" belongs in the Hall of Fame. Elway said his preference is for Bowlen's bust to be next to his in Canton, Ohio.
The Broncos chose to reveal Bowlen's condition now for multiple reasons: the owner's absence at Dove Valley would create fair speculation about his health, creating the possibility the news would leak, and the team felt it owed it to the fans and the community to be open about the situation since the Broncos are "a public trust," Ellis said
A former lawyer and real estate tycoon, Bowlen created a winning culture with the Broncos starting in his first season in 1984. He possessed the rare ability to preside over the team while empowering and trusting his football executives and players. Bowlen's first foray into football came in 1981 when he loaned money to the Montreal Alouettes owner, a friend of his. Bowlen never wanted to own a CFL team, and wisely passed an opportunity to run an USFL club.
He yearned for a chance in the NFL, and pounced when cash-strapped Edgar Kaiser agreed to a $78-million price for the team. The Broncos have experienced just five losing seasons over the past 30 years, selling out every game and winning two Super Bowls.
"We are going to do right by his family, the team and the community," said Ellis, struggling at times to find the right words to describe Bowlen's impact. "This is really hard. It doesn't change what we do. He loved running this team and was really good at it. ... We all wish Pat would walk through that door and do what he did so well. But he left us a blueprint that's easy to follow."