As a 16-year-old senior at Campion Jesuit Catholic High School in Prairie du Chien, Wis., Pat Bowlen dreamed of playing college football.
He never could envision someday becoming one of the most successful, triumphant and powerful owners of a National Football League franchise in Denver.
In four months this week Mr. B could be announced as "contributors finalist'' for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame committee, which has bypassed Bowlen in consecutive years, must honor the 74-year-old Broncos owner in August for 2019 induction.
Three sources with close associations to the Bowlen family have told me that Pat's physical health is declining dramatically. He has been suffering with Alzheimer's disease for many years.
According to the sources, although Bowlen receives constant medical attention at his home in Cherry Hills, he has been hospitalized several times.
The former Ironman triathlon competitor trained daily for decades in the team's training facility at the Broncos' headquarters (named for Pat's father) at Dove Valley and "had been a good athlete his entire life, but he's not doing well now,'' said one of his longtime friends, who didn't want to be identified because of Bowlen's delicate condition.
Bowlen always played hockey and football as a youth in the Windsor Park area of Edmonton, Alberta.
"He was a lanky, raw-boned boy who loved sports and was very athletic and competitive. He could excel at any sport he put his mind to,'' said another friend. "I wouldn't describe him as shy when he was young, but, rather, as reserved with a touch of brashness. He did not suffer fools gladly, and he had great loyalty to those who were his friends.''
Pat was The Can-Am Kid.
Paul Dennis Bowlen was a Canadian oil wildcatter, and his mother Arvella Woods Bowlen grew up in Prairie du Chien, a small town in the southwestern section of Wisconsin, next to the Iowa border, and hard by the convergence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers. Pat said years ago in an interview with Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his parents "met through a bunch of stuff'' and settled in Alberta. When his mother became pregnant in 1943, she didn't want her first child to be born in "some godforsaken place called Vermillion,'' he said to McGinn.
Pat has told me that the family matriarch, who later would become a major owner in the Broncos' corporation with her three sons and a daughter, wanted him to be a United States citizen, so she returned home to Prairie du Chien for the birth.
When Paul hit on wells and became prosperous, and started Regent Drilling Co., the family moved to Edmonton, and Pat attended a Catholic elementary school.
Then, his mother decided that he should go back to Prairie du Chien for a private education at exclusive Campion (which cost $1,350 a year for tuition, boarding and food then and closed in 1975) - an all-male high school of about 500 students administered by Jesuit priests with "strict discipline and a high academic standard, with 99 percent of the student body going on to college,'' said a friend.
Arriving by train as a stranger in a strange land as a freshman at the school, founded in 1880, in August 1959, Bowlen immediately joined the school's junior varsity football team and the freshman club hockey squad. He was 6-foot-2 and weighed about 160 pounds.
As a sophomore Pat was elevated to the varsity as a "mostly blocking'' receiver and ran the 440 in track. He would earn four "monograms'' (and wore the letter sweater proudly around campus), lived in new Lucey Hall and earned honors annually for proficiency in "English Scientific.'' He also was in R.O.T.C. (military training) for three years and "Elocution'' for one.
"Pat wasn't an outstanding student, but he made good grades. He loved football and became a starter on the team, but he wasn't a great player and didn't catch many passes,'' a friend said.
The 1962 school yearbook stated on Aug. 28 "38 young animals'' were welcomed back for football. The team photo shows Bowlen, a senior in jersey No. 21, standing next to the team's quarterback, No. 7 (oddly enough) Patrick McCorkell, who ultimately would become a highly accomplished priest and, for years, the Broncos' chaplain.
Bowlen also was in school with a couple of young men who would play in the NFL, actor George Wendt (the character Norm in "Cheers''), TV sitcom writer Tom Walla ("Growing Pains''), Pat Nugent (who married Lyndon Johnson daughter Luci) and Vicente Fox, who would be elected president of Mexico.
The Knights won their last game of '61, 31-0, to finish 5-4. Bowlen did not score.
"He was a great classmate, and a class act,'' a fellow student said. "And everybody liked him. He also was a good dancer when the young ladies came in for parties.''
Pat wasn't recruited by any college team, and there was no "Dancing For The Stars'' then, but he was approved by the University of Oklahoma as a student. In August 1962, Bowlen worked up the courage to try out for the Sooners, who were coached by the legendary Bud Wilkinson. Oklahoma had won three national championships and 47 consecutive games in the 1950s. The tall drink of water from Alberta and Wisconsin was taking on a monumental challenge.
"I realized right away I was too slow and too small, and not too good,'' Bowlen once told me. His football-playing career was over. The Sooners would win the Big Eight Conference that season and end up 8-3 with Pat among the fans in the stands.
As a rather rowdy frat guy in Norman, Okla., Bowlen admitted he got into trouble occasionally. However, he concentrated on being scholarly enough to earn a business degree in 1965, then was accepted to OU's law school. Pat received his law degree in 1968, then returned home to Canada to work as a young attorney representing oil and gas interests. He would get into real estate development, too, and joined, for a time, his father's company with young brother John.
Pat became rather wealthy, became restless in the early 1980s and sought to try other ventures - such as sports franchise ownership. He hadn't gotten over his love of football.
Bowlen reached out to Canadian Football League owners, but without serious response. Then, by chance, he talked to another member of the same Catholic church.
Edgar Kaiser Jr., scion of the Canadian family known for the steel industry and the construction of ships and cars, owned the Denver Broncos. "If you ever want to sell,'' Bowlen said he told Kaiser, "give me a call.''
Kaiser was a fast-thinking, quick-acting businessman. I was writing a magazine piece on Kaiser and accompanied him on his private plane to New York. In his Waldorf-Astoria penthouse apartment, Kaiser made a $65 million deal on a resort in Maui in less than an hour.
It's not surprising that Kaiser, who had soured on owning the Broncos and was experiencing major financial difficulties with the family corporation in 1984, called Bowlen to find out if he honestly wanted to purchase an NFL team. Kaiser had bought the Broncos in '81 for approximately $33 million and wanted more than double his investment - $68 million - three years later for his share. (He had sold off a minority percentage.) After all, Kaiser was responsible for trading for a quarterback named John Elway, who certainly had increased the Broncos' value.
Bowlen was all-in, except for one serious problem. He didn't have $68 million.
"One of the most interesting things to me was the support Pat received from his family, which allowed him to accomplish what he has,'' one of the sources said. "His father Paul was a very successful entrepreneur in oil and gas and related businesses. His mother Arvella was also a strong and supportive woman. It was Paul's financial success which enabled Pat to be successful in real estate development in Alberta shortly after his graduation from OU. Subsequently, this financial sponsorship was critical to his purchase of the Broncos, along with other family members. The important point is that Paul and Arvella had great confidence in Pat's acumen and leadership abilities, which has proven to be very well placed. Any initial financial support has, of course, been rewarded many times over.
"I can only expect that it was shocking to American football that the purchase of the Broncos was by some young guy in some lost outpost in the Great White North ... which says something about Pat's adventurous and entrepreneurial nature.''
According to another equally reliable source, however, Paul and Arvella were not so eager for Pat to risk such a great deal of family funds for his flight into fancy and football.
Yet, Pat's parents and his siblings John, Bill and Mary Elizabeth (Jagger) agreed to supplement the necessary tens of millions of dollars and Regis Resources credit, and take a piece of the Broncos' ownership.
Before he died, Paul Bowlen told John to take care of his older brother.
Bill and Mary Elizabeth sold their shares to Pat in 1996-97; Arvella, who struggled with Alzheimer's for years, died in 2006 and left her ownership percentage to Pat and John, and John recently sold a partial percentage to the Pat Bowlen trust. Regent Resources had filed for bankruptcy.
The Broncos are valued by Forbes Magazine at $2.4 billion.
Pat's Broncos foundation has doled out more than $50 million to charities, yet he never has been among the wealthiest owners, and was forced to borrow money from banks and even from the NFL during his tenure as owner. And there were a number of lean financial years for Bowlen and the Broncos until new network TV multibillion agreements were reached. Bowlen was head of the TV committee and responsible for the contracts, and bringing in Fox and "Monday Night Football" on NBC. Bowlen also was a league leader in pushing for expansion, annual games in London and other global countries and, yes, bidding for free agents and the "franchise'' tag.
However, when he was approved by the NFL to take over ownership of the Denver franchise in 1984, Bowlen asked Pete Rozelle what he should do at league meetings. The commissioner told the neophyte to keep his mouth shut for the first three years.
Bowlen did make an immediate splash when he wore an expensive fur coat on the sideline at the end of a game. "I assumed people in Colorado wore fur coats,'' he would say later.
But he wasn't a micromanager, allowing Dan Reeves and other executives to make most of the decisions, for the first few years, and Bowlen did truly care about the team and the game, was at every practice, introduced himself to every player and sat in on every draft and signing.
He didn't always keep his mouth shut, though, on other matters - upsetting some people in New Orleans, Raiders owner Al Davis and even many Broncos fans with his comments and observations - and his hiring of Josh McDaniels as coach. He may have been flawed, but Bowlen was a brilliant owner - the best in Denver history and one of the best ever in pro football.
Bowlen became the first owner to reach 300 victories in 30 years. During his reign the franchise has more Super Bowl appearances (seven) than losing seasons (sixth in 2017).
And 2018 will be the 35th season of the Bowlen/Bowlen Trust owning the Broncos.
Pat shocked me in an interview in May 2009 when he revealed for the first time he was experiencing "short-term memory loss.'' He stepped down from his daily duties and as CEO in July 2014.
After the 2012 season, when the Broncos were upset at home by the Ravens in overtime, Bowlen said: "It was a very good season, and we exceeded some expectations, but, Broncos fans, you and I know what a great season looks like.''
Bowlen told me in the 1990s he would "die with my boots on'' as Broncos owner. In his Bowlen Trust orders, Pat wants the Broncos always to have Bowlens as owners.
Pat Bowlen surpassed his football dream and fulfilled the Broncos' dreams.
The walk-on deserves to live on forever in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.