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Newly hired Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton, left, shakes hands with Owner and Chief Executive Officer Greg Penner before speaking at the podium during an introductory press conference on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, at the UCHealth Training Center in Centennial, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/The Gazette)

The Broncos were a long time coming for Greg Penner. Was it worth the wait?

In 2013 Penner reached out to the Broncos, one of the two best teams in the NFL that season, to inquire about buying the franchise, valued by Forbes at $1.161 billion. Ten years later Penner is co-owner and chief executive officer of the Broncos, one of the six worst franchises in the league last season, but valued at $4.65 billion.

Be careful what you wish for, Greg.

In his first 200 days on the job Penner signed quarterback Russell Wilson to a five-year $242,588,236 contract (with $161 million guaranteed), apologized publicly to the legions of Broncos fans for the team’s pathetic play, fired the head coach, reduced the role of the general manager, borrowed $100 million from the league for stadium improvements, spent $400,000 for new grass for one game and hired a new coach.

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Penner will spring ahead at 2 a.m. next Sunday to what he hopes is Broncos Saving Time in 2023.

Like the late Hall of Famer Pat Bowlen, Penner – chairman of the board of Walmart and general partner of Madrone Capital (Investment) Partners – already has learned that owning the Broncos is considerably more difficult than Hawaii’s 140.6-mile Ironman triathlon. Each competed at 40. Bowlen swam, biked and ran in the grueling event in 1984, the year he bought the Broncos, and Penner finished the Ironman in 2010.

During the Bowlen Era the Broncos reached five Super Bowls and won three. In the brief Penner Period the Broncos were 5-12.

Penner wasn’t responsible for hiring George Paton as GM or Nathaniel Hackett as head coach and acquiring Russell Wilson, but he can be held accountable for the most mammoth contract in team history.

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The Penner-Payton-Paton permutation is on the clock. Penner kept Paton and hired Sean Payton. They travel forward as a triumvirate. Free agency negotiations begin in 10 days. The draft is April 27-29. Training camp starts July 25, and the Broncos’ regular season will open Sept. 10.

Penner prepared for this process 10 years ago and accelerated the action a year ago this month.

Just a bit older than Bowlen was when he bought the Broncos in 1984, Penner decided in 2013 to pursue the Broncos’ ownership. Married to Carrie Walton Penner, one of the Walmart heirs and daughter of then chairman Rob Walton, Penner contacted the Broncos and said if the team were for sale, he would make an offer. Rob Walton had homes in Scottsdale, Kona and Aspen, and the Penners lived in California and had another house close to downtown Aspen. Carrie Walton Penner told me she had lived in Boulder when she was much younger with her mother, Walton’s ex-wife.

None of the Walton-Penner family ever had attended a Broncos game or been strong supporters of the team. Rob Walton was a race car fan, had driven on the track in Monaco and owned a vast collection of exotic, expensive automobiles.

The Broncos dismissed Penner’s proposition. Although Bowlen had developed early symptoms of Alzheimer’s in 2009, he had no plans to sell the franchise, but rather, turn it over to his children far in the future.

As it was in 2013, with Peyton Manning setting records at quarterback and John Elway as vice president-general manager, the Broncos produced a 13-3 record and won two postseason games before being blown out by the Seahawks and Wilson in the Super Bowl. The Broncos were still an NFL powerhouse the next two seasons and triumphed in Super Bowl 50. Unfortunately, Bowlen’s condition had deteriorated, and he stepped away from daily operations.

After Bowlen died in 2019, disputes among the Broncos’ bickering Bowlens led to the announcement Feb. 1 last year that the franchise would be sold.

Walton-Penner were in again. League executives, the banking company and the law firm selected to handle the sale and the Broncos trust knew almost immediately who would be the new owners despite the advances of several other bidders. Shortly after the Walton-Penner group officially was announced Aug. 9, Rob Walton, one of the richest men in the world, told me he previously scheduled a trip to Africa when the Broncos played their exhibitions, so it was obvious Greg Penner would be the franchise’s CEO and primary owner-in-residence.

Penner now is emboldened to bring the Broncos back to Bowlen’s glorious legacy.

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