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Pat Bowlen, Influential Owner of the Denver Broncos, Dies at 75

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Pat Bowlen, the influential owner of the Denver Broncos, under whose 35-year stewardship the team won all three of its Super Bowl titles, died on 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 a then-record $70 million, Mr. Bowlen had one of the most successful runs any team owner has enjoyed in American professional sports. In his first 15 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.

Under Mr. Bowlen’s ownership, the Broncos continued to sell out every home game — a streak that began in 1970 — even as the team increased the seating capacity by 50 percent in Mile High Stadium. Mr. Bowlen lobbied the local government to pay about 70 percent of the cost of a new stadium that opened in 2001, and the sellouts have continued.

From the start, Mr. Bowlen was a hands-on owner with a personal flair that reflected his youth and bravado in a league dominated by multigenerational families and businessmen who bought teams decades after they 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 quasi-celebrity. His lifestyle was considered lavish. He once owned a $170,000 chandelier that had belonged to Mussolini.

His avid athleticism brought him just as much attention. Mr. Bowlen ran the New York City Marathon in just over three hours and competed in the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii.

Mr. Bowlen 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 activity, the signing of players. Although he did not have the title of general manager, like the 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.

“I didn’t enjoy it,” Mr. Bowlen said of his public profile. “I think I had to put it into perspective, that if you’re going to own a football team, you’ve got to accept this public-image stuff as part of the job.”

He was often seen with players, most notably quarterback John Elway, who played all but one of his 16 seasons under Mr. Bowlen.

But Mr. Bowlen was just as visible among the league’s owners. Considered part of the “new guard” of younger owners, he was dismissive of league executives in New York, whom he once said were “living in the Middle Ages.” Mr. Bowlen played an outsize role in shaping the league’s financial future, and he understood that the success of the N.F.L. was most closely linked to its television rights contracts.

“I understand that the N.F.L. is in the entertainment business, and the players and the coaches are the entertainment,” Mr. Bowlen told The New York Times in 1998. “I am a producer.”

Patrick Dennis Bowlen was born on Feb. 18, 1944, in Prairie du Chien, Wis. His family had deep roots in Alberta, Canada, where his uncle was a provincial official. Mr. Bowlen 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, where he failed to make the cut on the freshman football team. His days as a player were numbered, so 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 founded. He then expanded into real estate and construction, including helping to build Northlands Coliseum, home of the N.H.L.’s Edmonton Oilers, as well as offices and residential projects.

He married Sally Edwards Parker in 1968, and had two daughters, Aime Bowlen Klemmer and Beth Bowlen Wallace. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1973. Mr. Bowlen married his wife Annabel in 1980 and had five more children, Patrick III, Johnny, Brittany, Annabel and Christiana. His wife and children survive him.

“Even during his battle with Alzheimer’s, you could still see that same strength and dignity in Pat that he brought to the office every single day for more than 30 years,” the Broncos’ president, Joe Ellis, said in a statement.


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