At the Broncos’ first home game Sunday, while one conflict is played out on the newly named Empower Field, another, in a dispute over ownership empowerment, is renewed off the field.
Football feud vs. family feud — Which is more critical for the Broncos?
The Broncos-Bears game is immediate. The Beth Bowlen-Brittany Bowlen clash is about the franchise’s future.
In the Broncos’ 60th AFL-NFL season, the team will attempt to win its 46th opener in Denver. The last time the Broncos lost their first one at home was in 2011 — to the Raiders, as John Fox debuted as coach. Vic Fangio lost his inaugural game as head coach Monday night — to the Raiders. Now, the former Bears defensive coordinator attempts to prevent the Broncos from losing their first two games for the first time since 1999, the season after John Elway retired.
The Broncos started 0-4 that season and ended up 6-10. With a defeat here, the Broncos will be squirming in at least two of the next games at Green Bay and in Los Angeles against the Chargers. The Broncos are compelled to transform the Red Zone into an Orange Zone if they don’t dare to duplicate the doom of 2017-2018.
Meanwhile, opposing Bowlen family factions will be upstairs, near each other, viewing the action. Their friction was elevated startlingly Friday when the two eldest children of Pat Bowlen, who died three months ago, filed a motion in court to void their father’s trust.
In the struggle over which progeny will become the franchise’s principal owner, Amie Bowlen Klemmer and Beth Bowlen Wallace, the daughters of Pat Bowlen and his first wife Sally Parker, have asked the Arapahoe County Court to determine, according to their attorney, if Pat Bowlen “lacked the required (mental) capacity’’ and “was subjected to undue influence’’ when he signed the Bowlen Trust agreement in 2009.
Daniel Reilly — attorney for trustees Joe Ellis (Broncos CEO), Rich Slivka (Broncos general counsel) and Mary Kelly (Denver lawyer) — responded with an assertion that “evidence in the courtroom will show Pat Bowlen was fully capable of establishing and understand (sic) his trust and estate plan when it was created in 2009. Mses. Wallace and Klemmer’s current position about their father’s supposed mental incapacity in 2009 was not raised by them or their lawyers until after 2014, when Ms. Wallace was privately told by the trustees she was not capable or qualified to serve as controlling owner.’’
Reilly is married to Kelly.
Brittany Bowlen, the middle of the five siblings in the marriage of Pat and Annabel Bowlen, has been designated as the heir apparent by the trustees.
Ironically, she was wedded to Alex Kim on Saturday, a day after the astonishing filing, and they are leaving on a honeymoon in the Tahitian islands. Afterward, she is expected to join the Broncos in an executive role following her job at McKinsey and Co., a global management consulting firm. Brittany, 29, likely would serve in several roles and be mentored over a four- to five-year period before becoming the principal owner. Pat’s other six children still would share minority interest in the franchise, along with Pat’s brother John. Yet, a provision states that if a child, or children, contests the trust, there would be a disinheritance.
Bill Bowlen, another brother, filed a lawsuit last year seeking to remove the three trustees from overseeing the Broncos. However, that suit was dismissed Aug. 29. The new motion by the two sisters in Arapahoe County Court came 15 days later.
At the two funerals, the memorials and the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction for Pat Bowlen, the children were not contentious, but rather cordial and friendly with each other. Most of the seven children attended every event — Johnny Bowlen was conspicuously absent on the stage in Canton, Ohio, during the unveiling of the Bowlen bust — and, as a group, spoke about their father and his achievements.
I talked to several of the kids recently.
I told Brittany of my 2009 conversation with Pat when I asked who he believed would succeed him someday, and he brought up Brittany. Even though she was young, she had “shown interest.’’
Brittany said to me: “My dad and I had a unique relationship.’’
During a discussion with Beth, she recalled her “special time living with my father’’ in a condo near downtown after he purchased the Broncos.
Including Bowlen’s brothers and the sisters, his wife Annabel, the seven children, and husbands and wives (Annabel the daughter, called “Little Bel’’ by her sisters, also was married last year) and even grandchildren, the Broncos’ ownership matter and even the seating at suites at the stadium on game days are a complicated predicament.
Assuming that Brittany, or even Beth, becomes the principal partner in the Broncos, she will be the 11th woman owner or co-owner in the National Football League.
The Bears’ owner, Virginia Halas McCaskey (daughter of George Halas), is the oldest owner in the league at 96. The Lions' Martha Ford, the widow of William, is 93. Jody Allen, whose brother Paul died in 2018, heads the Seahawks, and Janice McNair, whose husband Bob also died last year, is the Texans’ owner. Others include Dee Haslam (Browns) and Kim Pegula (Bills), co-owners with their husbands; Carol Davis, who co-owns the Raiders with her son Mark; Gayle Benson (Saints); Amy Adams Strunk (Titans), and Marie Denise DeBartolo York (49ers), an owner with her son, Jed York.
And myriad daughters and sons, sisters, brothers, grandchildren and spouses own minority shares in other NFL franchises, and family feuds have developed.
On Sunday, though, the emphasis in Denver will be on the duel between the Broncos and the Bears.