Colorado Business Hall of Fame Laureates: Pat Bowlen
The five laureates inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame for 2015 represent the state’s most distinguished group of business leaders from past and present, selected for their professional contributions to the state as well as their community service.
Pat Bowlen bought the Denver Broncos in 1984, with a background in oil and gas and real estate in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. For the next three decades under Bowlen, the franchise put together a nearly unprecedented run of success. Through the 2013 season, the team won 289 regular-season games and appeared in six Super Bowls, winning two of them. The franchise’s 307 total victories (including the postseason) under Bowlen rank third in the NFL and second in the AFC during that span.
Before buying the Broncos, Bowlen worked for a time with his father, Paul Bowlen, who founded Regent Drilling – now Regent Resources – an oil and gas exploration company in Alberta. Pat Bowlen also worked as a lawyer, earning a law degree from the University of Oklahoma, then was president and CEO of another Bowlen family company, Hambledon Estates Ltd., an energy exploration company in Calgary.
Bowlen has been competitive in all areas of life, say former players and current employees.
John Elway, quarterback for the Broncos from 1983 to 1998, remembers that Bowlen was himself a skilled athlete during those years.
“I think that was a big part of him,” says Elway, now executive vice president of football operations for the Broncos. He notes that Bowlen worked out every day at 4 p.m., never taking a day off.
Elway also recalls playing golf with Bowlen, and the owner’s competitive side emerging. “He could hit the ball around pretty well too,” Elway says. “That, to me, is the basis of what Pat is all about, and the competitive nature and wanting to win.”
Rod Smith, who played wide receiver for the Broncos from 1995 to 2006, also recalls a competitive Bowlen. “The crazy thing is, I used to see him working out all the time, especially early in my career,” Smith says. “I knew about him running and doing all these crazy things. That’s just him. He is very competitive … and when he lost you knew about it.”
Smith adds that Bowlen’s management style enabled the team to realize its potential. “He let the players, the coaches and the management do their job, and that’s what has brought the Denver Broncos to be the organization it is today,” Smith says.
These days the organization is not only a winning team, but also a fan favorite. According to a September 2014 Harris Poll of more than 2,500 adults, the Broncos are now “America’s Team.” Survey participants had given the Dallas Cowboys that distinction the previous six years.
In July, the team publicly disclosed that Bowlen has been battling Alzheimer’s disease and was stepping down from his CEO post. Broncos president and newly named CEO Joe Ellis fondly recalls working alongside Bowlen.
“It was just very rewarding to have someone with those instincts and character traits of kindness and humility,” Ellis says. “He is generally just a joy to be around on a daily basis. It’s been a great ride.”
through the years
1984 Bowlen becomes majority owner of the Denver Broncos.
1985 Bowlen and his family acquire 100 percent ownership of the team.
1986 The Broncos win their first AFC Championship under Bowlen. They win again in 1987, 1989, 1997, 1998 and 2013.
1997-1998 The Broncos win an NFL-record seven postseason games in a two-year period.
1998 Broncos win Super Bowl XXXII vs. the Green Bay Packers.
1999 Broncos win Super Bowl XXXIII vs. the Atlanta Falcons.
2001 Invesco Field at Mile High opens, with approximately 75 percent of its funding from taxpayers and 25 percent from private sources. Later the stadium is renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High with a sponsorship from the retail chain.
Feb 2014 The Broncos play in Super Bowl XLVIII, losing to the Seattle Seahawks.
July 2014 The Broncos disclose Bowlen has Alzheimer’s disease and is stepping down as CEO. Team President Joe Ellis assumes control.