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Woody Paige: Broncos must ask What Would Pat Do?

December 9, 2017 Updated: December 10, 2017 at 8:16 am
Caption +
FILE - In this Dec. 2, 2012 file photo, Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen watches as the Broncos warm up before an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Denver. Bowlen is giving up control of the team as he battles Alzheimer's disease. The team announced Wednesday, July 23, 2014 that the 70-year-old Bowlen will no longer be a part of the team's daily operations. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

What Would Pat Do?

Mr. B would do something compelling, forceful and swift.

Broncos owner Pat Bowlen did not suffer defeat, mediocrity and fools well for very long.

In 1990, the Broncos were agonizing through the first execrable season in the Bowlen Era, and on Dec. 23, lost for the seventh time in eight games, and 10th in 12.

I wrote a column in Seattle that night ripping Bowlen and the Broncos.

On Christmas Eve, a flower shop driver delivered a small, decorated tree to my house.

The card’s hand-written inscription said: “I will not put up with this (stuff) from my team, and you can put this tree up your (chimney). Merry Christmas – Pat.’’


The next season the Broncos played in their fourth AFC Championship in Bowlen’s eight years of control of the franchise.

However, in 1992, the Broncos were 8-8, and Bowlen fired coach Dan Reeves. When Mike Shanahan, who had been on the Broncos’ staff for three Super Bowls, turned down Bowlen’s offer to become head coach, the owner made Wade Phillips, in reality, the “interim’’ coach until Shanahan was ready.

The Broncos compiled a 16-17 record (including one playoff loss) over two seasons, and Bowlen fired Phillips. Shanahan was ready after winning a championship ring as the 49ers’ offensive coordinator.

The Broncos went 46-10 over the next three seasons, and Bowlen, with quarterback John Elway, won their first Super Bowls.

Bowlen told me Shanahan would be his “coach for life.’’

On Dec. 29, 2008, Bowlen fired Shanahan, who had produced a 24-24 record and no playoffs for three seasons.

“I guess life isn’t forever,’’ Bowlen said.

Based on a search conducted by “consigliere’’ Joe Ellis, Bowlen, whose memory was beginning to fail (as he would reveal to me in 2009), hired young Josh McDaniels. Only 28 games into the McMess, and after seven setbacks in eight games (and a taping scandal), Bowlen decided on his fourth, and final, firing of a Broncos head coach.

Ellis was promoted by Bowlen to team president, and Elway was hired to run the football operation and “fix’’ the Broncos. Those two have been in charge of hiring and firing since.  Bowlen became less and less involved and stepped down, because of his advancing Alzheimer’s disease, in 2014.

Ellis-Elway promised to continue the Bowlen legacy, and the Broncos’ franchise became, in the championship season of 2015, the NFL team with the best winning percentage since Bowlen’s purchase of the team in 1984 -- .612 (334-212-1).

After four victories to start 2016, the Broncos’ winning percentage since is .333 (8-16), and they won’t make the playoffs consecutive seasons.

McDaniels was fired with a 3-9 mark in 2010. Vance Joseph has an identical record before Sunday’s game.

Pat Bowlen wouldn’t tolerate such a precipitous fall from grace.

But he is unaware, and unable to do anything about it. Bowlen’s permanent absence has begun to produce rising resentment in Colorado, although the Ellis-Elway leadership produced five years of success without its commander.  

The Broncos are owned by the Bowlen Family Trust.

Two years ago, the NFL owners approved ownership of a franchise by irrevocable family trusts as a result of drastically increased team values, to an average of more than $2 billion and the difficulty of passing ownerships to sons and daughters. Previously, the league wouldn’t permit trust ownerships because the trustees have not been approved as owners.

The Broncos are overseen by trustees Ellis, Broncos counsel Rich Slivka and Denver attorney Mary Kelly. According to Bowlen’s orders, they eventually are to choose a new owner from among Pat’s seven children. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who just signed a five-year extension, reiterated in Denver before the season that the league has no intention of rushing the process.

The two candidates are daughters Beth Bowlen Wallace (46) and Brittany Bowlen (27). They worked for the Broncos before returning to college. Beth earned a law degree from the University of Denver, and Brittany will graduate with a masters in business administration from Duke next year. Each has specialized in substantive subjects and practical projects to advance her future as the Broncos’ potential owner. In all probability, both will become franchise executives, but not immediately, and have indicated in rare interviews they would follow their father’s predominantly orange blueprint.


Pat would do whatever it takes to put the Broncos back on top.

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