ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos officially welcomed the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group on Wednesday, marking the start of a new era in Denver. Rob Walton, Greg Penner, Carrie Walton Penner, Dr. Condoleezza Rice and Mellody Hobson spent the day at UCHealth Training Center and began their morning in a Broncos team meeting.
The ownership group met with the players and coaches to introduce themselves and share their vision for the organization. After Wednesday's practice, multiple players spoke about their first impressions of the new owners.
"The Walton-Penner Group is a phenomenal group," left tackle Garett Bolles said. "They're all leaders in all different aspects of their businesses. It goes to show you the type of people that we have, and they chose to be there with us because of the players we have."
It was a bittersweet moment for safety Justin Simmons because of his respect and appreciation for former owner Pat Bowlen, but he said he looks forward to getting to know the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group and to work with them to create a winning organization.
"What the Bowlen family has meant to the Broncos community and the organization, the heritage that they've left behind here — it's such a prestigious organization, and the standards are just top notch," Simmons said. "It's just such an honor. I felt that coming in, and I didn't even have a chance to shake Mr. B [Bowlen's] hand, or really have conversation or anything, and I felt that.
"Obviously it's bittersweet in some ways because you know the rich tradition that's been here, but at the same time, what an impressive group that [it's] being handed over to now. I'm just so excited. We briefly had a team meeting with them this morning and we heard from everyone besides Sir Lewis Hamilton. I know he's in the middle of his season right now — I get what that's like. It was just really cool hearing from all of them and hearing the vision — I mean a quick 10-minute vision, talking about being fired up and ready to go."
Both Bolles and Simmons were impressed with each of the owners upon meeting them and hearing their plans for the future of the Broncos. Bolles is excited to continue forming relationships with the owners he's met, and particularly looks forward to meeting Hamilton. As a professional athlete, he has the utmost respect for Hamilton's athletic accomplishments.
"It was really cool to get to know them," Bolles said. "I've talked to them, Mr. Walton and Mr. Penner and all of them, and then we have one of the best athletes in the world with Lewis Hamilton — what a phenomenal man he is with how many world championships he has and the demeanor he brings to the team. Like I said, they're great people, they're all phenomenal in the aspects of their life and what they've accomplished. Now they get to come here and do amazing things. I'm really looking forward to get to know them, their goals and aspirations and everything that we can do to get back to where we belong."
As the Broncos' reigning Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for the third straight year, Simmons looks forward to collaborating with the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group on making a positive impact in the community. His work in supporting youth education aligns with Hobson's involvement in After School Matters, a nonprofit organization that provides after-school and summer programs to Chicago teenagers.
Simmons also noted the significance of having diverse backgrounds and experiences in the ownership group. As highly accomplished Black women, Simmons said that Rice and Hobson can set an example for future generations of leaders.
"… To see some diversity and to see strong, Black women in the ownership group — [to] lead that role, what an inspiration for so many people," Simmons said. "There's little girls out here whose dad plays on the team, and they can look up [to the] ownership of the Broncos — they can see someone who looks just like them. I think that's really great. I think the biggest thing on top of that is, they didn't just do that to do that. These are really powerful, qualified individuals that deserve this, earned this [and] worked for this. That, to me, is inspiring."
THE COWBOYS COME TO TOWN
The Broncos will have a joint practice with the Cowboys on Thursday, and players and coaches alike are excited to face another team.
More than anything, Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett wants both the Broncos and the Cowboys to stay healthy.
"First and foremost, you want to protect the team [and] you want to protect their team," Hackett said. "[The Cowboys are] part of our team during that time. You want great competition, you want guys getting after it. It's always great to go against somebody else instead of your same guys over and over, and seeing the same defense. I think that's going to be great. In the end, we want to get work done. We want to get work done with them, they want to get the work done. Coach [Mike] McCarthy and I have talked, he's fantastic, he's on the same page as me. Again, it's just about getting different looks, different people, just like you do throughout the season. So I'm really excited for the guys — they're pumped up."
Bolles hopes to see the team remain consistent as they face another opponent. After a strong offseason, OTAs and training camp, he noted that the Broncos have showed the potential to be great. Now, with a new group of players coming into town, they have the opportunity to prove it.
"It's going to be nice to go against somebody else," Bolles said. "Going against [the Cowboys], it just goes to show you where we're going to be, it's going to show who our identity is, and so we're just going to go out there and do what we have to do."
'A GUY OF HIS CALIBER'
The Broncos will also face the Cowboys in Saturday's preseason game. While Hackett did not mention whether the starters will play, he noted that Russell Wilson does not require reps during preseason games to be ready for the regular season.
"A guy of his caliber that's been doing it this long — I don't think it's as important," Hackett said. "You always have to look at it as risk-reward. Of course, you want to go out there and play football all the time. I think that's why we practice. When you get out there — I've had a lot of different experiences throughout my career. The number one most important thing is getting the guys healthy going into the season. That's all that matters."
Hackett has hinted he may offer more clarity on which players will participate in Saturday's game following Thursday's joint practice.