Winning isn’t just a thing great teams do, it’s a way of life. Cliche enough for you? Maybe but it’s absolutely true. To become a winning organization everything must be done with the mindset of what’s best for the team. Pat Bowlen did this. Sure, he had mistakes but few and far between. It’s professional sports; even the greatest of teams stumble but those same franchises, franchises like the Denver Broncos, bounce back. Since Mr. B purchased the team in 1984, the Broncos have had as many SB appearances as losing seasons (7) and Bowlen was the first owner in league history to reach 300 wins in his first 30 seasons. Over a 35 year span, the Broncos averaged at least 10 wins per season and won 3 titles. Those things don’t just happen. Like we all learned by watching Bowlen’s Broncos, there’s so much more to being a great team owner than simply writing a check.
Bowlen was driven to succeed and did this by making tough decisions like firing one of his best friends in Mike Shanahan. Shanahan coached the Broncos for 14 seasons but in his final years with Denver, the Broncos went 9-7, 7-9 and 8-8, missing the playoffs 3 seasons in a row. It was a bold move to move on from one of the Broncos Mt. Rushmore candidates but being an average football team wasn’t good enough for the man that joked about going 19-0 every season. He wanted to win and while 19-0 has never been done before, it wouldn’t stop him from trying. The decision to move on from Shanahan was followed by the hiring of a young up and coming coach in Josh McDaniels. That proved to be a bad choice as the young coach went 11-17 in just under 2 seasons (was fired with 4 games left in the 2010 season). Bowlen then decided it was time to bring back some ole Mile High Magic and hire the Duke, John Elway as Vice President of Football Operations; a move that yielded 5 AFC West Championships, 2 AFC Championships and a SB title. After a tough call to fire Shanahan and a failed attempt at his replacement, Bowlen kept his sights on winning and earned a 3rd championship in the process.
Meanwhile, back at Coors Field, you have an owner in Dick Monfort who told the Denver Post’s Troy Renck back in 2013 that a realistic goal for making the playoffs is, “twice every five years.” I get it. It’s VERY difficult to make the playoffs in baseball. With no salary cap in Major League Baseball it makes it tough to compete with the major market teams like the Dodgers on a consistent basis but to flat out say that fans can expect playoffs only 40% of the time is just not a winning mentality. As a fan of all BIG 4 sports teams in Colorado, I would hate hearing that from any owner, especially if I were a season ticket holder. He has responded to fan letters and emails with things like “If product and experience that bad don’t come!” and “By the way you talk maybe Denver doesn’t deserve a franchise, maybe time for it to find a new home.”
Imagine if Pat Bowlen replied to fans like that? The man who sent a letter to fans after a Broncos playoffs loss to the Baltimore Ravens back in 2013 letting them know how much his heart ached for them and didn’t hold back in assuring a SB appearance the next season, which the Broncos delivered. (Full story here) https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/broncos/2013/01/15/pat-bowlen-email-letter-gutwrenching-ravens-overtime-loss/1836325/
The Kroenke’s are certainly in a good spot with the Nuggets and the Avalanche but how long did it take for them to decide that being simply an average franchise, like the Denver Nuggets during the George Karl era, was unacceptable? Karl, like Shanahan, was a fan favorite but as an owner, the tough decision needed to be made much sooner than it actually was. Going to the playoffs in the NBA is an easier task than going in the NFL and MLB and the Nuggets exited the 1st round 8 out of 9 times during Karl’s head coaching years. Not sure that would have been acceptable for Mr. B.
Bowlen’s Broncos didn’t make excuses. They simply recovered and got better. Keep in mind he insured that Denver was one of the best sports franchises over a 35 year span all the while working to improve the NFL by negotiating TV deals, helping to create Sunday Night Football and providing a positive voice of reason during a potential lockout period in 2011. When his team was stagnant they made a move. When his team was bad, they found ways to get better. When his team failed to deliver in a big game, he wrote letters to the fans. Pat Bowlen showed us what being a great owner of a professional sports team is all about. Unlike the Kroenke’s and the Monfort’s, there was never an outcry from fans wanting the Bowlen’s to sell their team. He simply did things the right way, the winning way. In Denver, and perhaps the country, there’s Pat Bowlen then there’s everyone else.