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Broncos President/CEO Joe Ellis discusses Hall of Fame, Pat Bowlen and international play

Posted Feb 2, 2017

Ellis discussed those topics Thursday while taking a break from the proceedings leading up to Super Bowl LI.

HOUSTON -- Like everyone associated with the Broncos, President/CEO Joe Ellis would rather be focused on preparing for Super Bowl LI. But with the Broncos sitting at home, his focus is on the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- and seeing the team's presence in Canton increase.

Ring of Famers Terrell Davis and John Lynch are finalists to be a part of this year's Hall of Fame class. And while the efforts to push owner Pat Bowlen for induction will continue through the meeting of the Hall's Contributors Subcommittee this summer, he knows that Bowlen wants desperately to see Broncos greats get their due reward.

"I hope we get at least one -- if not two -- former Broncos elected," Ellis said. "Pat always felt like we were underrepresented in the Hall of Fame, and I think he would believe that's true today."

The case for Bowlen himself to earn induction is well-documented, and the Broncos' performance in 2016 added to that; they still have more Super Bowl appearances (seven) than losing seasons (five) on Bowlen's 33-season watch.

One of the aspects of Bowlen's ownership that ensured team success was his foresight. He always had one eye on the future -- always planning. That allowed him to leave the Broncos with one final gift before stepping away to focus on his battle with Alzheimer's disease: the establishment of a trust to oversee a transition to one of Bowlen's children at the point when one of them was deemed worthy of managing the organization.

The trust ensured top-down stability in the Broncos organization. Given the 36-16 record compiled by the Broncos since Bowlen stepped away from day-to-day ownership responsibilities and continued success in ticket sales, sponsorships and other key metrics, his planning has paid off.

"I think it's gone pretty well. We had such an easy blueprint and easy instructions to follow that Pat put upon us and gave us. So I don't feel that it's been that difficult," Ellis said Thursday.

But it hasn't been the same.

"He's still the owner, but it's not the same with him not being in the building every day," Ellis said. "And I think that's difficult. It's hard for everybody. It's hard for us, but it's particularly hard for [the Bowlen family]."

As for Bowlen himself, he is doing "the best he can fighting an evil disease," Ellis said.

"He's physically in very good shape," Ellis said. "It's not something that's fair to anyone who has it. It's very difficult on the family in terms of caregiving, the time, the effort and the emotion it takes to do that for someone that you love. So he's doing the best he can."

Without Bowlen at the UCHealth Training Center, the Broncos organization soldiers on. But with the tweak to NFL bylaws in recent years to permit trust ownership, the club's ownership and trust can continue in its current places until one child can take the reins.

"The league still has a rule that you have to have one person designated as the representative -- and has to own five percent of the team. That will work out," Ellis said. "There will be a child that will have that, because all seven will eventually have that when Pat dies -- and we hope that isn't for a while. Eventually that will come to fruition; they will have that kind of interest [in the club]. It will be in a trust, but they will have that; they will qualify from an interest standpoint.

"But a couple of things are key. One is making sure that the child is ready and has earned the right. That was important to Mr. Bowlen. It's not as easy as just saying, 'OK, you're in charge.' And I think the children understand that. We, the trustees, have an obligation to follow through on Pat's wishes. We don't handicap that, so I wouldn't get into each particular child. But they've been told that. They're aware of that. And we'll see where it goes.

"In terms of the timeline -- I just don't know. We just stay in touch with the league, and if there are any red flags or concerns that they have, they bring them up and we try to address them. And they've been very understanding. They're fully aware of what Pat's plan is and what his desires are, so they're respectful of that."

The understanding of other owners is due in large part to the immense respect Bowlen commanded during his 30 seasons in active day-to-day management before he stepped aside in July 2014.

"They have a lot of endearment towards Pat for all that he did for the league," Ellis said. "I'm not just talking about Commissioner [Roger] Goodell, but I'm talking about his other partners, guys that worked with him as owners, whether it be [owners such as] Robert Kraft or Arthur Blank or John Mara or people of that stature in the league.

"So they're patient and they understand the situation that we're in and they're respectful of it, and they understand what Pat wants and they're willing to listen and see if it can be worked out."

IN THE MEANTIME, Ellis continues his efforts to build and expand the Broncos' brand, including one key part of Bowlen's ownership: international play. Ellis came to Houston this week hoping the Broncos would have the chance to play in Mexico, but the league opted to send the New England Patriots to Mexico City to face the Oakland Raiders this fall -- and then chose not to add another game there this season.

"I've been pushing for overseas [and out of the U.S.], and I think Mexico is a natural tie for us in some form," Ellis said. "They're only playing one game; I found out today. I was pushing to see if they might play additional ones now that the Chargers are moving up to Los Angeles; maybe they'd play a game or two in Mexico City."

Given the Raiders' potential relocation and the Chargers' decision to play two seasons at the 30,000-seat StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. before moving to a new stadium in Inglewood, the Broncos might have some opportunities for international games in 2018 if the Raiders and Chargers are selected to have games moved.

"We've got to get ourselves in the mix," Ellis said. "It's good for the team. It's good for the city. It's good for our region. I think it's good for the fans to know that their team is chosen to represent the league in foreign markets.

"It's just an advancement of the brand that's important to us -- whether it's in London, at Tottenham Hotspur's stadium or at Wembley Stadium, or it's in Mexico City or in Monterey, if that's where the league goes next. But we want to be a part of that. I'm hopeful that will happen sooner rather than later."