ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos are planning several ways to honor team owner Pat Bowlen , who died last week at 75 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s just two months shy of his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Renaming their stadium in his honor isn’t one of those.
The team has lacked a naming rights partner for several years, and an online effort pushed by Broncos broadcast partner Orange & Blue 760 called for fans to sign a petition asking the team to rename the stadium “Pat Bowlen Field at Mile High.”
“I don’t think he would want that. So, I don’t think we’re going to do that,” team president and CEO Joe Ellis said Monday. “We’ve honored him with a statue, with a Ring of Fame pillar, his plaque on the Ring of Fame. We’ll do some things this season to honor him. But if we were to put his name on the stadium, I can remember him when he knew I was off-track saying, `Joe, just a second.’
“And I think that would be his reaction. Probably there are people who would disagree, and I respect that. But for now that is not something that would be in our plans.”
The team will hold a public tribute Tuesday at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
“It’s kind of cool, we’re setting up a museum walkway that has a lot of his personal and Broncos memorabilia, and then at the end of the line is a tribute to him where members of the public can pay their respects to his family,” Ellis said. “All family members will be there tomorrow between the hours of 10 and 3. I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a nice send-off for Pat.”
Ellis said the Broncos also will wear an orange and blue “Mr. B.” decal on their helmets this season. Bowlen’s memory also will be honored before the regular-season home opener against Chicago and again in October on the same day fellow Hall of Fame inductee Champ Bailey is added to the team’s Ring of Honor.
Ellis said it was important to give fans that chance because so few can attend the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 3.
He said the public outpouring of support from fellow owners, former players and coaches and from fans is proof that the team made the right call in putting together the five-hour public stadium tribute, which will be followed by a private funeral next Monday.
In reflecting on Bowlen’s legacy, Ellis called him “a really good friend, a great mentor, and he was a great boss.”
Ellis said that although Bowlen was famously shy and known publicly as a man of few words, “I’ve got to tell you he was a great communicator,” one who would check in often whenever he was away on league business.
“He just loved to stay in touch. He needed to know what was going on and what that did for me was let me know that he was paying attention,” Ellis said.
“He ran this football team with his heart and not his pocketbook,” said general manager John Elway.
That was something Ellis could attest to.
“He wanted to rip up everybody’s contract all the time to give them more money,” Ellis said, laughing.
Ellis said Bowlen’s widow, Annabel, who also is suffering from Alzheimer’s, visited team headquarters Friday afternoon shortly after her husband died. “She just wanted to see Pat’s office,” Ellis said.
Ownership of the franchise is held in a trust Bowlen set up more than a decade ago in hopes one of his seven children will one day run the team. Although daughter Brittany is hoping to one day take over, the succession plan and the trustees’ oversight of Bowlen’s estate has been challenged in state district court in the last year by some members of the Bowlen family.
“Nothing has changed,” Ellis said. “Pat prepared himself for this day, planned ahead for this day. The trustees are going to follow Pat’s plan. I’m going to carry out what Pat asked me to do and honor what he asked me to do and that’s really as much as I would say at this time.”
Elway said nothing changes from his perspective, either.
“I’ve got 100 percent trust in what the trust is doing and the plan that Joe’s put together and the plan that Pat put together knowing this was coming down. I’ve got 100 percent confidence that this organization is going to continue to stand on its feet. Whatever direction that may be, it’ll be the right direction.”
Elway did allow that Bowlen’s death reinforces the urgency for him to reverse the slide that took the Broncos from Super Bowl champs three years ago to a team that posted double digit losses each of the last two seasons.
“No. 1, we’ve got to get it turned around, and No. 2, with Pat, thinking about Pat, it’s his memory,” Elway said. “There’s no question there’s more motivation to get this thing turned around.”
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