As a kid, you don’t always think about why things happen. We often just kind of accept them as facts of life.
And so it goes for a kid growing up in Colorado. We didn’t wonder why the Broncos are almost always good; we just kind of figured those are the rules. Another NFL season, another good Broncos team. The same was true for me. Ten-year-old Paul didn’t wonder why the Broncos were almost always good. They just were.
Coaches came and went. Players came and went. Steve Atwater, unfortunately, came and went. But now that we’ve been exposed to another few decades of the same, we are able to recognize the one constant.
With Bowlen as owner, the Broncos have more Super Bowl appearances (six) than they have losing seasons (five). Do you know what the Raiders, Chiefs or Chargers would give for that kind of record? Or the Bengals, Lions or Bills? Or the Seahawks? Or 90-something percent of the current NFL?
That’s one reason why, as John Elway said, “This is a sad, sad day.” Colorado is losing one of its few remaining constants. With Bowlen resigning control of the Broncos due to his ongoing fight with Alzheimer’s, we are losing something we could always count on.
You could always count on Bowlen’s Broncos. If not now, then next season.
The news today wasn’t a surprise. Bowlen hasn’t been as visible in recent years, aside from a cameo at training camp or walking into Dove Valley with a family member. There was a basic understanding among a few every-day media that the news of his health would break when Bowlen and his family wanted it to break. Some things are bigger than getting the scoop, and a man’s privacy, in a case as severe as this, is one.
I’m not an expert on Alzheimer’s, but my grandfather had some form of it, and it’s the worst. If there were one thing I could eradicate from the earth, it might be that.
“If you’ve had a relative afflicted by this disease,” Joe Ellis said this morning, “You know what that’s like.”
It’s awful. When the news arrived with a thud, I thought about asking former Broncos for their thoughts on Bowlen’s legacy and their memories of playing for him.
What he said to them. What he expected from them. What he meant to them.
And I’m sure that will still happen. The 2014 season, in some way, shape or form, will be dedicated to Bowlen, whether than means a “Mr. B” patch on the jersey or a teary “This one’s for Pat” from Elway, if the Broncos win the Super Bowl. He will go in the Ring of Fame, sooner rather than later, and I’m told Bowlen will argue it, because he never wanted it to be about him. There will be other times to ask players for their thoughts on Bowlen.
But right now those questions would be directed at the wrong people. With Bowlen, it has always been about someone else. It has always been about you, the fans.
It has been about 16-year-old Mark Jansen struggling to play in a basketball game at Denver Christian High School the night the Broncos lost to the Jaguars in the playoffs. But Mark knew the Broncos would be really good again the next season, just because. They won the next two Super Bowls.
It has been about Ryan Johnson watching the 2010 Broncos and wondering when the Josh McDaniels era would come to a merciful end. But Ryan knew it wouldn’t be long, just because. They fired McDaniels, and the next season began a streak of three consecutive playoff berths.
It has been about Justin Neerhof leaving a Super Bowl party in February because watching a Broncos loss was too much to handle. But he knew the Broncos would be really good again next season, well, just because.
By now we all know the just because. Just because they were Bowlen’s Broncos.
“Pat Bowlen doesn’t hang banners for second,” Justin said.
It’s true. If the Broncos weren’t in the Super Bowl hunt — not the playoff hunt, but the Super Bowl hunt — Bowlen wrote the necessary checks and made the necessary moves to put the Broncos back in that position.
I don’t know Mr. Bowlen, other than a handshake in the locker room, or a head nod on the practice field. What I do know, what I lived as a Colorado kid and now as a Colorado writer, is what he stands for. So do you. He stands for the fans.
It has always been about Mark and Ryan and Justin and you, more than anyone else. Bowlen always knew what the Broncos mean to Colorado and made certain that fans had what they wanted, whether it was a shiny new stadium, Peyton Manning at quarterback or a more comfortable setting to watch training camp. (The latter is happening now.) He made certain the right people are in charge as he exits, and Joe Ellis and John Elway are the right people to have in charge.
Both men cried as they spoke about Bowlen today (above).
“Pat wants to be the best at everything, and he wants to be the best the right way,” Ellis said.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am today if it wasn’t for Pat Bowlen,” Elway said.
Neither would the Broncos. We never asked why the Broncos were almost always good, but now we’re old enough to know. It was because of the one constant, Pat Bowlen.