DENVER -- **How do you say, "Thank you," to a man who meant so much to making an organization one of the finest in professional sports? Words only begin to express the emotion behind them. Gestures, no matter how grand, are inadequate.
But what stands at the center of Ring of Fame Plaza outside Sports Authority Field at Mile High is a deep expression of gratitude, and a way to forever honor the legacy of Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen: a nine-foot statue in front of four plaques which commemorate his contributions to the community, his life and the Broncos' success -- which he always regarded as a collaborative accomplishment of the highest order.
"Pat has never sought the spotlight, and never asked for accolades during his 31 years as owner of the Broncos," said his wife, Annabel Bowlen. "To Pat, it is always everyone else that deserves the credit."
And at Saturday's unveiling, some of those key contributors were on hand: Pro Football Hall of Famers Gary Zimmerman, Floyd Little and John Elway, Ring of Famer and longtime Broncos staffer Billy Thompson, team executives, and Bowlen's friends and family.
"Pat's a friend, he's a mentor and he is someone who has clearly made a profound impact not only on the Denver Broncos but the NFL," Elway said. "He is getting the recognition he so deserved -- but never sought out."
A group of sponsors and community leaders called Club 32 -- in honor of the Broncos' first world championship, in Super Bowl XXXII -- made the recognition possible, serving as the benefactors behind the project.
Bowlen's children unveiled the plaques as the twilight settled over the nearby Rocky Mountains. His wife, Annabel, untied the ribbon over the blue drape covering the statue. Together, the family pulled back the drape to reveal the creation of sculptor Brian Hanlon, who also crafted the busts of the Ring of Famers on the other side of the plaza.
Photos from the private unveiling of the new statue of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen
The statue represents Bowlen in the commanding pose he held so often at field level on game days: arms folded, a chiseled face bearing a commanding look, and topped by the sunglasses so often seen as he watched his team go through its paces. It was a look that always gave the impression that his eyes glanced everywhere, at every moment.
And that was not far from the truth. There was not an area of the organization that Bowlen overlooked. Until he stepped away from day-to-day operations to focus on his fight with Alzheimer's disease, Bowlen ensured he had the right people for the jobs, and established a structure that allowed them to succeed to the best of their abilities.
That underscored his standing goal for the Broncos: to "be number one in everything." Those words are now immortalized on the second plaque from the left.
"It all starts with the owner," said President and CEO Joe Ellis, "and it all starts with the guy who, for 31 years, consistently had the same approach, the same mandate to his players, his coaches, his employees: and that was to be the best in everything, and put all our resources into winning championships, and if it didn't work out, come back next year and try to do it all over again each and every year.
"That's his legacy."
And what Club 32, Elway, Ellis and others recognize is that a statue of Bowlen is an appropriate way to honor the myriad accomplishments of the Broncos under his watch, both on and off the field.
"It's certainly a lasting tribute to Pat that fans can enjoy year-round, whether it's before a Broncos game in the fall, or on a Saturday afternoon in the spring," said Annabel Bowlen. "But Pat would be the first to say there would be no statute recognizing him if it were not for the hard work dedication and success of others."
In a way, the position of the statue reflects that. Instead of looking away from the stadium, as is often the case with statues that stand near sports facilities, this one is positioned so the statue faces the stadium he and the success of the Broncos helped create.
"Facing the stadium, facing the Ring of Famers, and also facing (the statue) of the horses, too, which is a big part of what Pat wanted when he was doing the stadium: the seven horses running toward the stadium," Elway said. "They couldn't have done a better job with it. It's just sad that Pat couldn't be here tonight, but we know that he's here in spirit.
"He's a guy that never sought the attention, so it's nice that we could be here to do this for him tonight."
And the area might be tweaked in the future.
On the third plaque from the left are representations of the Vince Lombardi and Lamar Hunt Trophies, with the championships the Broncos won under his ownership. There is space for more.
"Hopefully, it's room for Super Bowls, and hopefully, it's room for recognition as a Hall of Fame owner," Ellis said. "I think Pat deserves that, and I think we're all hopeful that sooner, rather than later, he'll get that kind of recognition that he deserves."
Bowlen is no longer an everyday presence at Dove Valley, but the final chapter of his ownership -- and the Broncos' accomplishments on his watch -- remains unwritten.