As one of the first speakers at the funeral of his 24-year-old starting cornerback, Pat Bowlen unassumingly walked up to the top of the church pulpit steps.
He strode to the huge podium and gave a passionate, loving tribute to Darrent Williams.
There were gasps and murmurs in the jammed-packed Baptist church in Forth Worth, Texas on the first Saturday afternoon in 2007.
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Bowlen, you see, committed a church faux pas. That microphone and pulpit were reserved for the church’s pastor and no one else.
All the speakers, even a luminary such as Bowlen, were to address the mourners (and a live television audience in Denver) at a small podium at the front of pulpit steps.
Days later, a sheepish Bowlen admitted he had no idea of the rules of that particular church and he was just focused on honoring his player, who was senselessly gunned down in the early morning of New Year’s Day, just hours after the Broncos’ ended their 2006 season.
Despite his miscue, no one was upset at Bowlen. How could they be?
He wasn’t the type to get on people’s nerves. He was just Mr. B to most.
Mr. B wanted to say goodbye to Darrent that day and it didn’t matter where he did it from.
Pat Bowlen died late Thursday night after battling Alzheimer’s disease for several years. He was 75.
Friday, several of Bowlen’s former players expressed their grief and honored Bowlen on social media. The posts had a central theme – Bowlen’s was the ultimate player’s owner.
He loved his players.
When Williams was killed, Bowlen worked in concert with the Denver police department to find the killer. Bowlen also paid for the funeral and brought the entire Broncos’ organization to Forth Worth for the ceremony.
That’s the kind of owner players want to play for. That’s how Bowlen will be remembered in Denver and around the NFL.
In a bittersweet reality, Bowlen will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in early August. There was a push to get Bowlen elected while he was still alive so he could perhaps enjoy it despite his ailment. The Broncos thought that goal was achieved when he was elected in February.
Cornerback Champ Bailey has said going into the Hall of Fame with Bowlen made his honor even sweeter. Bailey is a perfect example of Bowlen’s work as an owner.
Bailey was being shopped by the Washington Redskins in 2004 because he wanted a new deal they didn’t want to pay him, Bowlen pushed and gave Bailey a new record deal as part of a trade to get him. Bailey had his best years as a Bronco.
What stood out about the quiet Bowlen is that he had the demeanor of a background type of guy. But, the truth was, Bowlen was a heavily involved owner. The Broncos were his business. They weren’t an investment. He was involved in the daily operations. Bowlen would drive his Porsche into a private garage at the Broncos’ facility daily and hunker down in his office that overlooked the practice field.
While Bowlen was involved, he was never overly involved. He always let his football people run the show and it was appreciated.
He never got in the way nor did he remind people that he was the owner with his words or actions.
Bowlen bought the Broncos in 1984. They went to seven of their eight Super Bowls (and won all three) under Bowlen’s ownership.
Bowlen purchased the Broncos for $78 million 35 years ago. As of last September, the Broncos’ Forbes valuation was $2.7 billion. The Broncos have long been considered one of the better run franchises in the NFL under Bowlen.
Bowlen was also heavily involved at the NFL level. He was the chairman of the broadcast committee and he is credited for making lucrative deals for the league and making it such a strong television presence. He was also on the NFL’s labor and finance boards.
The shy Bowlen, who causally cruised around in in cowboy boots and jeans, had a major impact on his franchise and the NFL.