PHOENIX --Pat Bowlen could not attend the NFL Annual Meeting this week as he continues his battle with Alzheimer's disease. However, President/CEO Joe Ellis knows that Bowlen's presence continues to be felt as the game evolves and its business continues to expand.
Bowlen's accomplishments during his three-plus decades as Broncos owner have not received recognition from the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- at least, not yet. After coming close last year, momentum appears to be growing toward a nomination from the Contributors Committee this summer, which would be the first step toward induction in the Hall's 2018 class.
"I'm optimistic, I really am, and I believe he deserves it. I know he deserves it," Ellis said as the NFL Annual Meeting concluded.
"I think a lot of people that are voters, a lot of people that are involved with the league, a lot of his peers have talked to me, and they clearly see that it's his time."
Bowlen's legacy goes beyond the Broncos, but what he built and sustained in Denver is remarkable -- a franchise that has more Super Bowl appearances than losing seasons in his 33 years of ownership. The Broncos' legacy of success and current talent level is a reason why their head-coaching job was widely considered to be the best available this past January.
Ellis filled the void in the wake of Gary Kubiak's retirement with Vance Joseph, a former Kubiak lieutenant with the Houston Texans. This week, approximately 70,000 fans watching the online stream of Joseph's press conference at the AFC Coaches Breakfast got a glimpse at why Ellis and Executive Vice President/General Manager John Elway tapped him for the position.
On topics covering football philosophy, team building and strategic changes to improve the run defense and its work on first possessions, Joseph offered a clear vision. He spoke in specifics on his plans and tactics, not vague promises and platitudes.
That's exactly the man that Ellis has seen around UCHealth Training Center in the last two months. So much is yet to be determined about Joseph's success as head coach, but it's so far, so good in Ellis' eyes.
"He's assembled a good staff, he's organized, and he's got a vision for how he wants to see his team perform, and he communicates that very clearly," Ellis said. "I think those are really great steps.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing him on the field, to interact with his players in meetings and things like that. He's a young guy, he's got a lot of energy, and he brings a lot of enthusiasm and intelligence to his job. We're lucky to have him, and we're looking forward to seeing how he does."
While Joseph handles the on-field football picture, Ellis has to take a broader view -- which includes assessing the impact of franchise relocations on the Broncos.
They'll no longer make annual trips to San Diego, and soon will say goodbye to Oakland as the Chargers and Raiders complete their relocations to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, respectively.
Much will change, but Ellis expects the rivalries will not.
"I think the rivalries will endure," Ellis said. "I feel bad for the Oakland fans -- the Black Hole was a great atmosphere, and they had a great fan base there that really was very loyal to the team. So you hurt communities and you hurt fans when you relocate, but on the other hand, I think the Raiders are a great brand and a popular team. Their fans will travel. They'll be very popular in Las Vegas, and we look forward to the rivalry continuing."
Participation in great rivalries and a high standard for success are both parts of Bowlen's lengthy resume -- one that Ellis dearly hopes gets its deserved honor next year.
"That would be a great moment for him -- and it will be a great moment for his family, a really, really proud moment," Ellis added moments later. "My hope is that they can be in Minnesota in February and have [Pro Football Hall of Fame President] Dave Baker knock on their hotel room door and let them know that their father and husband has been selected to be in the Hall of Fame. I think that will be really special."
From Phoenix, Joe Ellis, John Elway and Vance Joseph participate in the the NFL's annual league meeting to discuss league-wide topics. (photos by Andrew Mason)