Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen is ceding control of the team, his wife confirmed in a statement to the Denver Post. Annabel Bowlen also confirmed some much-rumored health problems that Bowlen has suffered during the past few years.
"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," Bowlen said in a statement. "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."
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Bowlen, 70, has been the owner, president and chief operating officer of the Broncos since purchasing the team in 1984, overseeing one of the most consistently competitive organizations in the league over the past 30 years. The team has gone to six Super Bowls, winning back-to-back league titles in 1997 and 1998, and losing this February to the Seattle Seahawks in the last title game.
Team president Joe Ellis, who has been overseeing daily operations of the team along with executive vice president and general manager John Elway, will assume control of the Broncos. Ellis, Bowlen's trusted right-hand man, has been primarily in control since 2011.
"It's a really, really sad day," Ellis told the Denver Post. "It's sad for his family, his wife and his seven children. It's sad for everyone in the organization. And it's sad for all the Bronco fans who know what Pat Bowlen meant to them as an owner. It's a day nobody wanted to see happen."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell praised Bowlen in a statement to the Post.
"This is a sad day for the NFL," Goodell said. "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 benefited 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."
The Broncos' ownership has been placed in a personal trust set up by Bowlen years ago that now is controlled by non-family members, with Ellis owning final say over team matters. Bowlen hopes to pass on ownership of the team to one of his seven children when they are ready, and the team is not expected to be put up for sale.
Bowlen admitted in 2009 to the Post that he had been suffering short-term memory losses. He had become less visible in league circles over the past several seasons after at one time being a prominent, visible and even iconic figure, including serving as a former chair of the NFL's broadcast committee and a major figure in many league business matters.
This is the first time anyone from the Bowlen family had acknowledged that he had been suffering from Alzheimer's, for which there currently is no cure.
Bowlen was successful in the oil, gas and real estate industries before buying the team from Canadian financier Edgar Kaiser Jr. for $78 million. Bowlen also contributed more than $150 million toward Invesco Field at Mile High, where the Broncos have played for more than a decade.
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