EDITOR'S NOTE: The following was the cover story in the Gameday program from Sept. 5, when the Broncos defeated the Ravens 49-27.
For three decades, Broncos Owner and CEO Pat Bowlen has built a championship culture in Denver.
He’s brought two world championships to the city, cemented the Broncos as the biggest show in town and made just as big an impact off the football field.
And he’s done it the right way.
“Kindness, humility and generosity I think are three traits that sum up Pat Bowlen,” Broncos President Joe Ellis said. “Thirty years of just being a great owner for not only the team but for the city and the community.”
During that span, Bowlen has become just the second three-decade owner in professional football history to win at least 60 percent of his games, joining original New York Giants founder Tim Mara.
In addition to winning 10 division titles, Mr. Bowlen’s franchise has had regular-season win totals of 14, 13 (four times), 12 (twice), 11 (four times) and 10 (three times). Fourteen of the 15 best years in team history have come during Mr. Bowlen’s ownership.
"Pat was a guy that really turned everything around and made winning the tradition with the Broncos," Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway said.
Off the field, under his leadership Denver Broncos Charities has donated more than $25 million to charitable organizations in Denver and surrounding areas since the inception of the fund in 1993. Bowlen is the chairman of the board.
"What he's done for the city of Denver, the state of Colorado, is second-to-none," Hall-of-Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "I know there's a lot of owners in the National Football League. Some have won more championships than Mr. Bowlen. It would be hard-pressed for me to believe that there's an owner in the National Football League that cares more about his city, about his state, about his players, than Mr. Bowlen."
His contributions to the community were recognized on May 22, when Bowlen was presented with the Mizel Institute’s 2013 Community Enrichment Award, recognizing his philanthropic leadership throughout the state of Colorado.
"The work that he's done, the resources that he's given -- not only with the Broncos but that he's given to the whole Rocky Mountain region,” Elway said at the award banquet. “He's a generous guy with a big heart. There couldn't be a better guy getting this award.”
In addition to Elway, Hall of Famers Sharpe, Floyd Little and Gary Zimmerman and Ring of Famers Tom Jackson and Tom Nalen were among the guests to help honor Bowlen at the banquet, which was held at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum.
All of them spoke highly of what Bowlen has meant to their lives and the lives of many throughout Colorado.
And it didn’t surprise any of the Broncos in attendance that more than more than 2,000 guests showed up to the banquet to honor Bowlen. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell even sent in a taped message for the banquet.
"I knew that this community would turn out like they are tonight," Jackson said when Bowlen was given the award. "It's not just because he owns the Denver Broncos, it's because of the person that he is."
Led by the efforts of Bowlen and his wife Annabel, the Broncos have partnered with and supported a variety of causes throughout the community, including Bonfils Blood Center, the NFL's Play 60 program, the Inner City Health Center, HealthONE’s Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, Food Bank of the Rockies, the Denver Metropolitan chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Denver Rescue Mission, the American Heart Association, Boys & Girls Club of Metro Denver, Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, The United Way and Denver Public School Athletics.
Bowlen has also served as the Honorary Chairman of the Colorado Special Olympics for the past 19 years and as Honorary Chairman of the Stadium Stampede (formerly the Colorado Family Classic) benefitting St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation for 28 years. Other organizations benefiting from Bowlen’s leadership and participation include the University of Denver, Capuchin Friars, University of Northern Colorado, Rose Medical Center, American Ireland Fund, Irish Community Center, Hawaii Maritime Center, Alberta Bar Association, Law Society of Alberta and the Young Presidents’ Organization.
“Pat Bowlen’s passion is not just about fielding a great football team,” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said. “He brings a unique intensity to everything he does and that’s led to a Broncos brand that’s bigger than football, it has become part of the fabric of the community, and Pat is part of this city’s heart and soul.”
“This city and state are better places to live because of all your efforts," he told Bowlen on stage during the banquet.
The community enrichment award was not the first time Bowlen has been recognized for his ownership -- his status and reputation as an owner were recognized within the state on April 10, 2007, when he was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
That ownership began in 1984. When former owner Edgar Kaiser decided he wanted to sell the team, Bowlen said he was “first in line.”
He was introduced as the majority owner of the Denver Broncos on March 23, 1984, and he and the Bowlen family acquired 100 percent ownership of the Broncos in July 1985.
"When I look back, I can honestly say that the fans really bought into that team,” Bowlen said. “It wasn't me. They bought into that team."
That relationship between the fans and the franchise has never been lost on Bowlen.
He said that the Broncos franchise is “not just the players and it's not just Pat Bowlen, it's the people who live here in town."
Jackson ventured that the owner understood that connection “almost from day one.”
The connection on the fans’ side seems to stem from the fact that Bowlen’s main focus every single year is on hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of it.
“He puts all his attention to doing the right thing by the fans, this community and putting the best football team he can on the field each year,” Ellis said. “I think the fans appreciate the effort that he puts forth to put the best possible team he can out there and try to win the Super Bowl.”
As Zimmerman said, “it’s not dollars and cents with him.” That passion for winning has also strengthened the devotion within his players and the Broncos staff.
“He wants to win. That’s what’s in his heart. That’s what’s on his mind: I want to win,” Jackson said. “I think that everybody who’s known him would almost do anything to contribute to that.”
The expectations are high for the Broncos in 2013, which is how Bowlen likes it. If he’s ever asked for a prediction for the team’s record, he always says 19-0.
That might have something to do with the Broncos’ ascension to the top sports franchise in the region, which was one of Bowlen’s goals when he took over as owner.
"The way I looked at it was we had competition -- we had a baseball team, we had a basketball team, we had a hockey team and we had the Denver Broncos,” Bowlen said. “So we weren't the only people in town. But what I wanted to do was to establish that we were the No. 1 team in this city. I think we were able to do that."
“They own the town,” he said. “Not Pat Bowlen. The Denver Broncos own the town.”
Going on 30 years of ownership and counting, Bowlen has made an immeasurable impact on the franchise, the NFL and the Rocky Mountain Region.
And he’s still going.
“Pat elevated what the Denver Broncos are,” Jackson said. “Forever.”