ENGLEWOOD, Colorado — The easy part was selecting team owner Pat Bowlen for the Denver Broncos' ring of fame. The hard part was telling him.
Team president and CEO Joe Ellis drove over to see Bowlen, who stepped down from his daily duties last summer as he battled Alzheimer's.
He said he knew exactly how Bowlen would react when informed he'd been chosen as the 28th member of the ring of fame, which Bowlen created in 1984 to salute former players and administrators who played significant roles in the franchise's history.
"He paused and he had a little wry smile come over his face. He said, 'Well, why the hell would you guys do that?'" Ellis recounted at a news conference Wednesday.
"That kind of sums up what Pat's all about, his modesty and his humility," Ellis said, noting how Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe put it best when he once said: "Pat never wanted to take any credit. He wanted everybody else to get the credit."
"Today he deserves the credit," Ellis said. "Nobody is more deserving of being in the ring of fame than Pat Bowlen is. He's established himself as one of pro football's greatest contributors."
Bowlen is the only owner in NFL history to win 300 games, counting playoffs, in a 30-year span. The Broncos own the league's longest sellout streak at 369 games. He also played instrumental roles in the league's growth as a member of several committees, including co-chairing the NFL Management Council and working on the league's network contracts.
Ellis said he hopes the next move is for Bowlen to be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor like 2015 inductees Ron Wolf and Bill Polian.
"I'm hopeful that day comes sooner rather than later," Ellis said. "Pat deserves it."
Ellis said the Broncos' five-member selection committee quickly zeroed in on Bowlen when they met Wednesday morning and spent most of their 30-minute meeting reminiscing about Bowlen's leadership and recollecting his empowering management style that the franchise continues to follow under Ellis' stewardship.
"It's not the same without him here every day," Ellis said, growing emotional. "But we do get to visit, and that lifts our spirits. I just don't think it's fair. The disease is so wicked and unfair to people. No matter who has it, it's unfair to families and caregivers. I just wish he was here every day."
Bowlen will be honored before the Broncos' Sunday night game against Green Bay on Nov. 1, a symbolic gesture as the Packers were the team Denver beat for the franchise's first of back-to-back Super Bowl titles in the 1990s.
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