DENVER • The Mardi Gras beads, orange and blue, slid from his hand onto the Pat Bowlen statue. They were his cousin’s, Tony’s. Tony wore them every Sunday until the day he died.

“We live a few blocks away from here, over on 15th,” born-and-raised Broncos fan Joe Ramos said early Friday morning outside Mile High Stadium. “We walk to the games. This man ...”

This man ...

“Larger than life,” Broncos lifer Joe Stamile said.

I’m always hesitant to make normal humans sound cooler than they are. We’re all just people.

Mr. B’s an exception.

Pat Bowlen died late Thursday after a devastating battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 75.

His impact here is immeasurable. As the owner for 35

years, Bowlen made the Broncos synonymous with Colorado. Mention you’re from here, the response was either something about skiing or the Broncos. The most impactful man on this state’s sports history has no peers.

Mr. B is why Joe Ramos wiped a tear as he left the Mardi Gras beads next to a can of Orange Crush. He’s why Adam Busack, a senior at Chatfield, rocked Broncos-logo’ed Chuck Taylors as he reminisced over Super Bowl 50. (“I wasn’t born until after the other ones,” he said. “But I know everything about them.”) He’s why a few dozen bouquets colored the Bowlen statue outside the new Mile High, and why Ashley Alfaro, another lifer, named her daughter Peyton.

“Without Mr. B,” Alfaro said, “you just think how different life in Colorado would be.”

Growing up, Sundays were for Jesus and John.

The Broncos as we know them are from Mr. B.

“He made Broncos Country,” Ashley said.

I can’t speak to Bowlen as a man. Didn’t know him like that. But I can speak for his influence on a state that’s synonymous with John, Steve, T.D., Rod, Ed, Karl and Von — because of Pat.

“This ‘TD’ jersey, I wore it every game the year we won Super Bowl 50,” Alfaro says. “Then after the game when John said, ‘This one’s for Pat!’ we will never forget that. It’s true, you know?”

You could count on Bowlen’s Broncos. They were as reliable here as 4 o’clock thunderstorms. If his Broncos weren’t good now, they would be good soon, with no better point of reference than the fact his Broncos had the same number of Super Bowls as losing seasons. Seven. (7)

“He gave this team everything we needed to be the best and compete for championships, and the focus was always on football,” said John Elway, the greatest Bronco.

“Pat Bowlen Field at Mile High” sounds good to me. How about you? Toss in naming rights somewhere on the sign, and boom, a massive tribute befitting a massive figure in Colorado.

Problem is, that’s the last thing Bowlen wanted. Celebrity wasn’t the priority. Winning was.

Under Bowlen’s tunnel vision, among the big four leagues, only the San Antonio Spurs, New England Patriots and Los Angeles Lakers had a better winning percentage than Denver’s .596.

“He did things that most owners don’t do,” two-time Broncos Super Bowl champion coach Mike Shanahan said Friday on Altitude 92.5 FM.

“He made you feel s

pecial in every way.”

The line of Broncos fans who swung by Mile High to pay their respects began before 7 a.m. and continued through lunchtime. It’s probably still going now. None had met Pat Bowlen; all felt like they knew Pat Bowlen.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee should be ashamed it failed to induct Bowlen before his death, they said. (Bowlen will be enshrined in less than two months, in August.) First and foremost, they said, Bowlen was a competitor of the highest degree. The 9-foot bronze statue at Mile High wore a Hawaiian lei, a nod toward Bowlen’s love for the Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii.

“There’s a little saying going into the locker room: ‘I want to be first in everything,’” said Steve “Greek” Antonopulos, who will present Bowlen at the Hall of Fame. “Mr. Bowlen is very competitive. I really could tell you some stories about that, but I probably ought not to.”

They came in waves Friday. Ashley had her Broncos earrings, Adam his orange Chucks. Some shook Broncos key chains, others wore Atwater throwbacks. ”This team is our whole identity,” Busack said.

They had never met Pat Bowlen. They loved him dearly just the same, the best testament of all.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

Sports columnist

Denver sports columnist for The Gazette

Load comments