On July 23, 2014, the day Pat Bowlen stepped away from the Broncos as team owner to focus on his health, no one could have imagined the ensuing roller coaster ride to come.
For more than 7.5 years, the Broncos have been operated by a trust led by team CEO and President Joe Ellis. Denver’s had some success during that era (winning Super Bowl 50) and a lot of tough seasons as well.
But when I sat at the Broncos annual summer media BBQ that day in 2014, it would have been hard to predict everything that would eventually transpire. From multiple court hearings, to the Johnny Bowlen “Blood of the City” fiasco, it’s been a wild and sometimes sad journey.
As the years passed, and especially after Pat Bowlen’s death, interest in who would become the controlling owner of the team ramped up. As you know by now, the Broncos were put up for sale in February, and it won’t be someone with the last name Bowlen calling the shots soon.
So, how did we get here?
It was expressed time and time again the goal was to keep the team in the family, but only if they could all play nice. Beth Bowlen Wallace made it known in 2018 she wanted the team, and the trust fired back, saying she was “not capable or qualified” of running the franchise.
From that point forward, it became abundantly clear the Broncos would either be put in the hands of the much younger Brittany Bowlen or sold. In some of his most pointed comments during the whole saga, Ellis said as much to Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post.
“I’m pretty confident, pretty sure that’s going to absolutely have to happen for (the Bowlen children) to be able to keep this team in their family,” Ellis told Kiszla in 2019.
When Kiszla followed up, asking Ellis if it was Brittany or sell, he confirmed that to be the case.
“That’s right,” Ellis said. “That’s probably the likely outcome. That’s how we’re looking at it as trustees at this point. ”
Just this past summer, the question arose again, and Ellis didn’t waiver in how he felt.
“If Brittany is going to move forward, there’s going to have to be an agreement among all the family members in some form that she can do that,” Ellis said.
Well, apparently, an agreement could never be reached.
Fewer than seven months later the Broncos were officially put up for sale, and Ellis did not hold a press conference, instead releasing a statement. It did not address why the decision to sell the team was made, but one can guess pretty easily. The Bowlens couldn’t get along.
To their credit, the family released a classy statement, saying they were “overwhelmed with gratitude for what this organization and community have meant to us.” But again, there was no indication about why the team was going to be sold.
Through all of this, it feels like Brittany could have kept the Broncos in the Bowlen family for another 38 years or more, but the prospect of cashing in the over $ 4B asset was just too tempting and the fighting was just too much. And that’s a shame.
Months after Beth Bowlen Wallace made her comments that she wanted to run the team, Brittany did the same.
“I do have ambitions and goals to one day becoming the controlling owner of the Denver Broncos,” Brittany said in October of 2018. “And I’ll keep working toward those goals. I’m not there yet, but I really believe I can get there. ”
And she did her best.
In December of 2019 Brittany rejoined the Broncos as Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and by all accounts worked very hard. It just wasn’t enough to keep the team with the Bowlens.
To be very clear, I’m not blaming the trust or Ellis at all. He said time and time again the Bowlen family retaining the Broncos was the goal, but there were conditions for that to happen. It’s never been Brittany’s fault, but instead family disagreements behind closed doors we’re simply not privy to.
Even after the decision to sell was announced, Brittany has remained involved. She was in the room for Russell Wilson’s press conference last month and also traveled to Mexico to represent the Broncos at an event with Hall of Famer Steve Atwater and current linebacker Bradley Chubb. She could have easily taken her ball and gone home, but stayed classy until the end.
With a new owner set to take control in the next few months, there’s no guarantee a job will be waiting for her should she want one. Yes, she will cash in handsomely, as will the rest of the Bowlen children, but the Broncos will be gone.
Brittany Bowlen got a raw deal from her family, unable to find common ground and keep their father’s team for decades to come. She’s handling her looming exit with grace, despite having a dream ripped away.