Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has been battling Alzheimer’s disease and is relinquishing control of the franchise, his wife and the team announced Wednesday.
“As many in the Denver community and around the National Football League have speculated, my husband, Pat, has very bravely and quietly battled Alzheimer’s disease for the last few years,” his wife, Annabel, said in a statement released through the Broncos.
“He has elected to keep his condition private because he has strongly believed, and often said, ‘It’s not about me.’
“Pat has always wanted the focus to be solely on the Denver Broncos and the great fans who have supported this team with such passion during his 30 years as owner. My family is deeply saddened that Pat’s health no longer allows him to oversee the Broncos, which has led to this public acknowledgment of such a personal health condition.”
Bowlen, 70, bought the Broncos in 1984, and saw his team reach six Super Bowls, including winning back-to-back championships in 1997 and ‘98.
Team president Joe Ellis is adding the title of chief executive officer and will have final say on all matters.
The Broncos say the ownership of the franchise is held in a trust Bowlen set up more than a decade ago in hopes that one of his seven children will one day run the team.
The Denver Post, which first reported the story of Bowlen stepping down, reported in May 2009 that the Broncos owner was suffering from short-term memory loss. The latest development is the first acknowledgement that Bowlen has Alzheimer’s, however.
“This is a sad day for the NFL,” league Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Pat Bowlen’s leadership has been critical to the success of the Broncos and the entire NFL. From building a championship team that is a pillar of the community to his important work for the league on television and labor matters, Pat’s love of the game drove him and we have all benefitted from his passion and wisdom. But the time has come for Pat to focus on his health and we fully support him. Joe Ellis has been a trusted executive for Pat for many years after working with us at the league office. Joe’s deep experience ensures that the Broncos will continue to have strong leadership.”