Blood is thicker than water, but power is thicker than blood.
While the Broncos have scrambled to regain respect on the field, the franchise has sunk into an abysmal abyss off the field.
The Bowlen Family Feud seems cut from the cloak of “Wuthering Heights’’ — with three generations, seven children, a wife and an ex-wife, three grandchildren, stepkids, two brothers and a sister and their spouses and progenies, three trustees (one the CEO-president of the Broncos), a horde of attorneys and public relations reps, the president of the team’s football operation, a judge and the NFL home office all involved.
It is a morass muddled in mire, muck and mess.
Patriarch Pat Bowlen doesn’t even know what’s going on behind the scenes and for public display. In his Cherry Hills mansion, the Broncos’ owner in absentia sits and stares, lost in the recesses of his mind and his declining body.
He never would have authorized or accepted this bad blood-letting battle.
Especially when Pat will be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Feb. 3, barely two weeks before his 74th birthday.
He wanted one of his offspring to continue the Broncos’ winning tradition that stretched over four decades.
That’s why Bowlen, who always was fearful of Alzheimer’s because his mother suffered from the dreaded disease, set up the Bowlen Trust. Whether he was of sound mind and body when he signed the documents then is being argued in a lawsuit. Meanwhile, two of Pat’s daughters by different mothers carry on a complicated, convoluted conflict over which — if either — should sooner, or later, take over controlling authority of the Broncos. Both Beth Bowlen Wallace and Brittany don’t want to share the throne with the other. Other family members, who are not deemed aspirants, only can watch and wait. Beth vociferously seeks to succeed her father in the very near future, while the considerably younger Bowlen generally has maintained a lower profile while preparing to return to the Broncos and receive the additional training to ascend to governing owner.
If Beth were to win, which is highly unlikely, her first decision would be to get rid of CEO and president Joe Ellis, who once fired her from an underling role with the franchise. If Brittany were to triumph, which is most probable, Ellis would be her mentor for five years until he retired.
Meanwhile, in a separate but totally related matter, Pat’s younger brother Bill has filed suit to oust the trustees — Ellis, the team’s lawyer and a close friend who has served the Broncos in several legal concerns. Years ago Bill Bowlen sold his minority ownership interest in the franchise to Pat, and his oldest brother John, who has health issues, recently sold a sizable share of his minority ownership to the Broncos’ trust.
Each supports the coup by Beth.
The Broncos’ trustees have asked the NFL to arbitrate the Bill Bowlen demand that they be removed, but the NFL actually can’t take action against Bill Bowlen, who is not connected to the league. Bowlen claims his brother already was struggling with Alzheimer’s when he signed documents regarding the trust. Bill’s lawsuits uses as evidence a conversation I had with Pat in 2009 when he acknowledged, for the first time, he was experiencing “short-term memory loss.’’ He told me he couldn’t remember much about the two Super Bowl championships in the 1997-98 seasons.
When I later asked casually if any of his children expressed a desire to one day own the Broncos, he basically dismissed the idea, saying that Brittany, a teenager, seemed to be the only one who had mentioned the prospect.
Nine years ago Pat Bowlen was his feisty, forceful self. Within two years, though, he obviously was struggling, and his agreement with John Elway (who is a major player in everything that is happening) to sign Peyton Manning to the highest contract in Broncos’ history may have been the last major act of his long and distinguished career, and life.
A year later, Bowlen, usually surrounded by a cadre of subordinates, didn’t recognize me.
These days, according to a neighbor, Bowlen doesn’t stray outside. There was a rare sighting months ago at Castle Pines Golf Club, where he is a member. Mostly, though, Pat views TV.
Pat’s wife Annabelle Bowlen has announced she, too, has the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
As the Broncos win twice and surface as a long-shot postseason possibility, Pat Bowlen lives in a dark place, and the Bickering Bowlen Family has reached withering depths.