Pat Bowlen, the influential hands-on owner of the Denver Broncos, which won all three of its Super Bowl titles under his long stewardship, died Thursday night at his home in Englewood, Colo. He was 75.
Mr. Bowlen’s family announced his death in a statement. He received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in 2006 and had had no role in running the team since 2014.
But in the decades after he bought the Broncos, in 1984, for US$70-million, a record at the time, Mr. Bowlen had one of the most successful runs of any team owner in U.S. professional sports. In the first 15 of his 35 years at the helm, the Broncos, who had done far more losing than winning in their first 24 seasons, won seven division titles and five conference titles, and consecutive Super Bowls in 1998 and 1999. The team won its third NFL title in 2016.
From the start, Mr. Bowlen was an active owner with a flair that reflected his youth and bravado in a league dominated by multigenerational families and businessmen who bought teams decades after they had made their fortunes.
Just 40 when he purchased the Broncos, Mr. Bowlen walked the sideline before games in a cowboy hat and fur coats, signatures that made him a quasicelebrity. His lifestyle was considered lavish. He once owned a US$170,000 chandelier that had belonged to Benito Mussolini.
He claimed to be publicity-shy, but that did not stop him from being active in nearly every aspect of the club, including the riskiest and most visible one – the signing of players. Although he did not have the title of general manager, like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Mr. Bowlen kept close tabs on team personnel decisions, which opened him up to criticism when players did not do well.
During his long tenure as chairman of the owners’ broadcast committee, the league expanded its television footprint to include the wildly successful “Sunday Night Football” in 2006.
“I understand that the NFL is in the entertainment business and the players and the coaches are the entertainment,” he told The New York Times in 1998. “I am a producer.”
Patrick Dennis Bowlen was born Feb. 18, 1944, in Prairie du Chien, Wis. His family had deep roots in Alberta, where his uncle was a provincial official. Pat was sent to boarding school in Wisconsin, where he was a hockey star in high school and played some football.
He went to the University of Oklahoma. After he failed to make the cut on the freshman football team, he focused on obtaining an undergraduate degree in business and then a law degree.
After graduation, he moved to Calgary to practice law. With the oil industry booming, Mr. Bowlen became president of Regent Drilling, a company his father had founded. He then expanded into real estate and construction, including helping to build Northlands Coliseum, home of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, as well as offices and residential projects.
He married Sally Edwards Parker in 1968, and they had two daughters, Aime Bowlen Klemmer and Beth Bowlen Wallace. The marriage ended in divorce in 1973. With his second wife, Annabel Bowlen, whom he married in 1980, he had five more children: Patrick III, Johnny, Brittany, Annabel and Christiana. He leaves his wife and children.