Tag Archives: Josh McDaniels

Standing Pat

Pat Bowlen card 8.7.01_0005

The card reproduced above was postmarked Aug. 8, 2001, one day after my column on Pat Bowlen’s pursuit of a new stadium for the Broncos was published in the Rocky Mountain News:

“Dear Dave, Thanks for the nice article. I felt good reading something as nice as that this morning with my coffee. Let’s have another run. You will kick my ass! Pat”

The reference was to a run we shared in Greeley 17 years before, in Bowlen’s first summer as Broncos owner and my first as a Broncos beat writer for the Rocky, which I’d referenced in the column. The joke about feeling good when he read it referred back to a part of the interview in which he described his feelings reading the papers during the stadium campaign.

Here’s the column, published in the Rocky on Aug. 7, 2001:

Always Standing Pat

For Broncos owner Bowlen, running from critics or his beliefs hasn’t been his style

Eighteen summers ago, when Pat Bowlen was the 40-year-old rookie owner of the Denver Broncos, I was a rookie beat writer assigned to cover the team.

Competition between Denver’s daily newspapers on all matters Broncos-related was even fiercer than it is now, in part because there were only two big-league teams in town. Without baseball, our football season began about Memorial Day.

I knew two things about Bowlen: He was Canadian, and he’d just finished 135th out of more than 1,400 competitors in Hawaii’s Ironman Triathlon, a remarkable achievement for a man his age. I fancied myself in his league, having run a high-altitude marathon a couple of months earlier. I thought I might use this to my advantage in the ongoing beat war.

I invited the new owner to go for a run between practices in Greeley’s stifling midday heat, thinking we would form a bond and I would get an impeccable source of information.

Math was not my strong suit. I hadn’t bothered to figure his likely training pace. He ran me into the ground, to be blunt about it, and the conversation was kept to a minimum, owing chiefly to my struggle for oxygen.

Having watched any number of his players lose their breakfasts doing Dan Reeves’ suicide sprints, I remember thinking the Broncos might be the only team in sports with an owner in better shape than his players. I wondered if Bowlen’s athletic drive would make him a better owner than most of his brethren, whose idea of exercise remains martini curls in the owner’s box.

And I wondered if he meant it when he said he’d be Broncos owner until they carried him out in a pine box.

All these years later, I have my answers. Now 57, running the Broncos is Bowlen’s life. And as popular a target as he has been in the intervening period, it seems to me undeniable that he has grown into a model owner, maybe the best in sports.


In less than three weeks, the Broncos will play their first game in the new $400 million, taxpayer-financed stadium Bowlen worked for years to have built.

Everything about it has been controversial, from the enormous cost to the public financing to the corporate name that defrayed not merely taxpayer expense, but also Bowlen’s.

When you consider it from a Broncos fan’s point of view, there is nothing controversial about it, other than maybe the name. The new stadium provides the local franchise with a state-of-the-art venue and, perhaps more important, state-of-the-art revenue.

Whether such extravagance in the service of sport represents a reasonable public priority is a fair question. But Bowlen’s job is not to determine public priorities. Bowlen’s job is to represent the interests of his team. This he did most successfully.

“The process was remarkable when you look back at what happened and where we’re at now,” he told me. “We really started this thing back in the mid-’90s, and here we are a few weeks from playing a game there, and a month from opening up Monday night, in a facility that I believe is the best ever. I really do.

“Of course, everybody laughs, ‘Hey, there’s Bowlen boasting and bragging, self-serving statements,’ but I’ve been in all the stadiums and I think I can have a slightly objective view, and I think history will show it as being one of the better stadiums built, especially for football.”

His role as the point man in a campaign to win public financing made him a lightning rod for criticism.

“When we were going through this, when we were soliciting the taxpayers to continue that tenth of a percent (sales) tax that built Coors Field, I could get up every morning and pick up the paper and somewhere in there there’d be an article about me. None of them would be very good. Some of them would be a little better than others, but most of them would be pretty negative. You know: ‘Bowlen reaching into the taxpayer’s pocket, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’

“I’d read that, drink my coffee and go out to the Broncos facility and forget about it. I think at some stage in my life it would have made me very upset. It’s not that you ignore it, it’s just you say, ‘Well, that’s their point of view. And here’s my point of view.’

“I know I never want to go through it again. I’ve never wanted to be a politician, and I sure as hell was a politician. I might as well have been running for governor during that period of time. So that’s the way you’ve got to approach it: Your opponent is going to say bad things about you. And you just go on and hope that your position prevails.

“It did, and as time goes by, I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of critics of what we did. There will be people that say, ‘I still don’t support a tax-supported stadium.’ But now we’ve got it and it has been supported by the taxpayers. I think they’ll say, ‘This is a great new facility. I still don’t agree that we should have paid for it, but we got our money’s worth.'”


Bowlen admits his transition from private businessman to public figure was a rocky one. From the fur coat he brought from Edmonton to a tolerance for players of dubious character, he took plenty of shots.

But he never ran and hid from his critics, as many owners do. And his team has been consistently successful during a period in which he has been the lone constant. The Broncos have been to the Super Bowl five times in the 17 seasons Bowlen has owned them, winning the NFL championship twice.

John Elway and Mike Shanahan get most of the credit, as they should. But Bowlen’s relationship with both men is an underappreciated factor. He let Reeves go when it was either Reeves or Elway. In Bowlen’s office hangs a LeRoy Neiman rendering of Elway — a gift from the quarterback. It is a possession Bowlen prizes.

He hired Shanahan and got out of his way while remaining in daily contact as club president. While we were speaking, Bowlen took a call from Shanahan for a report on that morning’s training camp workout.

“I was very shy of public exposure, and shy, period,” Bowlen said. “So the exposure to Denver and the publicity was initially really a big shock. You can’t explain that to anybody when they’re coming in. But you learn fairly quickly that you’ve got a very short honeymoon period and that ownership is always a pretty easy target. And I think you’ve got to accept that as an owner. If you can’t take that kind of heat, then you shouldn’t be in that position. That’s what’s going to happen.”

Why not hide?

“The more you try to do that, the worse you make the situation,” he said.

Bowlen declines comment from time to time but has remained consistently accessible to the media, no matter how many shots he takes.

“I think that’s important, because we’re in the entertainment business,” he said. “Quite a few owners aren’t actually running their clubs, so they have a president or somebody else that’s doing most of the talking for the club. I choose to have that position, so I’ve got to be prepared to follow through on it. That’s just part of our business.”


The lows were more common than the highs in his first decade, despite generally stellar regular season records.

“The toughest times, I know for sure, were losing three Super Bowls. Those are the toughest days that I can remember,” Bowlen said.

The best days are just as obvious. Both of them.

“Especially Super Bowl XXXII,” he said. “Not that XXXIII wasn’t a big thrill, too, but winning your first Super Bowl in that fashion, and being able to hand that trophy to John Elway, that’s the highlight of my career.”

Outside his office is an enormous photo of him in the locker room after that game, orange tie still tight, Vince Lombardi trophy clenched in one hand, mouth open in joy.

Next to it is a similarly sized blowup of Elway under center, calling signals, Terrell Davis in soft focus behind him. At the end of the hall is another, Shanahan in his headset on the sideline.

This is the tradition Bowlen has built.


A recent poll commissioned by the Rocky Mountain News and KCNC-Channel 4 confirmed the Broncos’ place atop Denver’s crowded sports scene. More than half of Colorado sports fans identify the Broncos as their favorite local team.

You can attribute that to tradition, but having been around since 1967 didn’t help the Denver Nuggets, who finished behind “None.” Success drives fan loyalty, as the transplanted Colorado Avalanche proves.

Fans and media are reluctant to give Bowlen much credit. He’s not warm and cuddly. It’s easier to like players and coaches.

“To say I didn’t care about it would be a lie,” Bowlen said. “But I know enough about this industry, and Denver’s a pretty fierce place when it comes to its sports teams. So I’m extremely blessed with that, that I have a very solid city here that’s very supportive of the Denver Broncos. We’re No. 1, and that’s where I always want us to be.

“So I can’t get really upset about my image — my good image or my bad image. Because I realize if I do this for the rest of my life and they carry me out in a pine box, that’s when my image will be the best. That’s when they’ll say the best things.”

He laughed, then mentioned the late Art Rooney, who became beloved in Pittsburgh only near the end of his life. Of course, the Steelers were dreadful for a long time under Rooney.

Elway is gone and the Broncos are still Super Bowl contenders. Shanahan runs a tight ship, but someone hired him. Someone sets the tone.

If meddlesome, egotistical, venal owners are responsible for much of sport’s foolishness, then smart, dedicated, competitive owners must be responsible for some of its achievement.

In the past two decades, the Broncos have become a model franchise. That happens to be the Pat Bowlen era. And it ought to be recognized before he has any need of that pine box.


Much has been and will be written about Bowlen’s contribution to the Broncos’ emergence as NFL royalty during his three-decade run in the corner office. These days, with high-profile owners like Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban running around, it’s no longer remarkable for an owner to act as chief executive of a franchise, but it still was in 1984. This is why the onset of what was today acknowledged as Bowlen’s Alzheimer’s disease presented something of a journalistic dilemma.

As our conversation 13 years ago reflected, Bowlen was his team’s chief spokesman on big-picture issues regarding the franchise for most of his time in charge. Several years ago, he stopped speaking publicly. Broncos fans, naturally, became curious about why. As a local columnist, I got questions about it regularly. Among people in and around the organization, his cognitive issues were an open secret. With Shanahan having consolidated power over all football-related matters, Bowlen’s silence didn’t seem like a big deal from a news standpoint. Shanahan could and would address pretty much anything that came up.

Shanahan’s firing at the end of the 2008 season changed all that. There were legitimate questions about the process that led to the selection of young Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as his replacement, as well as McDaniels’ rapid accumulation of total control of the football operation, something the organization had said would not happen again after Shanahan. These decisions were attributed at times to Bowlen and at times to Joe Ellis, who had become the owner’s right-hand man. Ellis was and is a business guy, not a football guy, a fact he readily acknowledges. After Jeff Legwold and I broke the initial story of Spygate II in the Denver Post on Nov. 27, 2010, I came to the conclusion that disarray in the Broncos organization required a look at the leadership of the franchise.

I told Jim Saccomano, the Broncos’ former head of media relations and by then vice president of corporate communications, that I intended to research a column about Bowlen’s health and the state of the Broncos’ leadership as the club began a new coaching search. Jim referred me to Ellis, who agreed to speak with me on Dec. 1, 2010. Shortly before we were scheduled to talk, I received a call from the media relations staff letting me know the interview was off.

The next day, shortly after noon, I received an email from the sports editor at the Post, Scott Monserud, addressed to all three Post sports columnists — Woody Paige, Mark Kiszla and me. It instructed us not to write about or publicly discuss Bowlen’s health unless Bowlen chose to discuss it. Woody had already written his piece referring to Bowlen’s admission of “short-term memory loss.” We were to go no further. The instructions came from “the top, the very top,” according to Monserud. This was as clear as he could make it that they came from Dean Singleton, then owner and publisher of the Post, who had a close relationship with the Broncos. But just in case, Monserud added that the instructions came “from (editor) Greg (Moore), via Dean, to make sure we’re all on the same page.” I surmised that Ellis had called Dean, who told Moore to squash my inquiry.

I’d known Bowlen a long time and liked him very much. Our shared interest in endurance sports as younger men had created a bond of sorts, even if I couldn’t keep up with his six-minute miles. From a journalistic perspective, there was no question in my mind that he qualified as a public figure. And the many questions surrounding the Broncos following McDaniels’ firing made it seem to me an obvious and necessary avenue of inquiry.

I had no desire to cause Bowlen or his family any more pain than a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s does on its own, but I believed then and still do that the ability of a major business in town to call the local publisher and suppress an uncomfortable story was unhealthy.

Fortunately, Bowlen and/or Ellis salvaged the situation brilliantly by hiring Elway to run the football operation. A year later, Elway signed Peyton Manning to play quarterback and the glory days were back. The questions surrounding Bowlen’s health receded again until today’s announcement.

Until the last few years, Bowlen was as down-to-earth and accessible as any owner in sports. He devoted himself completely to his team’s success, and he achieved it. Thirty summers later, Colorado is poorer for his exit from the stage.

Rockies would rather not be our punching bag

To understand the Rockies’ decision to take manager Jim Tracy’s contract status underground, you have to understand the relationship between ball clubs and old media — newspapers, radio and television.

This is difficult for most people to do because you don’t hear much about this relationship. That’s because, until very recently, you got most if not all of your information about ball clubs from old media, which are neither inclined nor equipped to examine their own role in this dance dispassionately.

As you may have noticed, things are changing rather rapidly in this respect. Many athletes now bypass the old media filter and communicate directly with their fans through new media, Twitter and Facebook being the most obvious examples. Clubs are beginning to do the same. The Broncos have taken to breaking their own news through the organization’s Twitter account or that of John Elway, the face of the front office. They have their own videographer, Chris Hall, who posts news conferences and edited video features on the team’s web site.

The Broncos also issue a media credential to a former employee and current independent blogger, Andrew Mason. Using his own resources, Mason covers the team both at home and on the road pretty much as a traditional old media beat reporter would, except that he is more comfortable with a variety of platforms — photography, videography, the written word — than most old media reporters. He posts his work on the web site MaxDenver.com.

Both the Broncos’ and Mason’s sites are aimed at the Broncos’ very substantial fan base, both locally and nationally. They emphasize the good news and minimize the bad.

The Nuggets, too, have brought news dissemination in-house in the person of former Associated Press and Rocky Mountain News writer Aaron Lopez, who tweets and writes for the organization’s web site.

To date, this self-dissemination of the news remains limited. Although the Broncos were well aware of the investigation into Spygate II in Josh McDaniels’ final season as head coach, they were not about disclose it publicly. Still, once the Denver Post broke the story, the Broncos took immediate control of it, calling a news conference the same day — a Saturday — to announce the investigation was complete and the NFL had fined both the organization and McDaniels for breaking league rules by videotaping a San Francisco 49ers walk-through at London’s Wembley Stadium four weeks before. In effect, they were announcing that the story was over before old media had a chance to sink their teeth into it.

The Broncos have become even more pro-active about public relations under Elway, who was hired a little more than a year ago. One could imagine them beating old media to the punch the next time, announcing both the infraction and resolution simultaneously, thereby providing the story as little shelf life as possible for old media to chew on afterward.

At first glance, this looks like the traditional inclination of any organization, public or private, to manage the news and minimize negative publicity, and it certainly is that. But it is also something more. It is one result of old media transforming themselves as their monopoly on information slips away.

While those of us who grew up in old media are loath to admit it, pandering to web hits — internet page views — has become a fact of the modern age. Page views drive digital advertising, and digital advertising is the key to the internet land grab.

Years ago, people in the media business had the luxury of debating whether to provide the information people needed or the information people wanted. Even then, reader surveys indicated we could not provide too much celebrity news. And they suggested we could very easily provide — and often did — more information than most people wanted about the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

But we had a monopoly on the existing platforms for news dissemination, so we got to decide. Generally speaking, we tried to strike the balance they teach in journalism schools. Many people resented this gatekeeper function, but what were they going to do? Where were they going to go?

Fast forward to today. Old media institutions are fighting for their lives amid the creative destruction of capitalism that has brought down so many old industries and delivered so many new ones. I worked for one of them. TheRocky Mountain News went under three years ago after 150 years of existence. Given such cautionary tales, the surviving institutions of old media are now focused primarily on survival.

In this brave new world, all media, old and new, are in a battle to the death for your eyeballs. As recently as ten years ago, writers had no idea how many people read this column or that one, just as advertisers had little or no idea how many of their sales grew out of any particular print or broadcast ad.

Today, thanks to the internet, we know exactly how many page views each column gets, and we have learned a few things that do not, in the end, come as any great surprise:

Provocation sells. Extreme, even absurd claims, often get more web hits than moderate, reasonable ones. Thanks to something called search engine optimization, celebrity news gets the most attention of all. If you think the amount of media attention devoted to Tim Tebow is very nearly insane, you haven’t seen the web analytics. If you saw local page view counts for anything including Tebow’s name, you would understand why so many apparently unrelated pieces find a way to throw it in there.

The web rewards extremism not necessarily because readers are becoming more extreme in their views, although they might be. Mainly, the web rewards extremism because extreme claims drive curiosity. If I write a column saying Tracy has some good traits and some bad ones as a big league manager, it will get far fewer clicks than if I declare he is either the Rockies’ savior for the next ten years or he is a joke and has no business in a major league dugout. Either of the latter claims is likely to provoke a heated dispute, preferably in the comments section of my employer’s web site. The former claim is not provocative enough to fully stimulate that partisan debate and will therefore almost certainly be less successful in attracting eyeballs to my employer’s web site.

Which brings us back to the Rockies. The Rocks have not yet been as pro-active as either the Broncos or Nuggets in managing and disseminating their own news, but they are getting there. They have begun tweeting from an organizational account and they publish the writing of correspondents who work for mlb.com on their rapidly improving web site.

More than most organizations in town, they have been battered by old media’s recognition that extreme stands attract more attention than moderate ones. When the Rocks are good, as they were in 2007 and 2009, old media lavish attention on them. When they are bad, as they were in 2008 and 2011, old media rip them as if they had never accomplished a thing.

So the decision to quit making public announcements about the contract status of their top executives and manager is just a way of giving old media fewer fat pitches to hit. After all, who else does such a thing? Does the Post announce that it is re-upping a sports editor or columnist, opening the door for the public to chime in on whether that’s a good idea? Does KOA declare how long it intends to keep me around? Does CBS4 announce the term of any anchor’s contract?

The Rocks remember well the beating they took in old media when they announced on the first day of the 2007 season that they were re-upping general manager Dan O’Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle for two years apiece. They were slapped around for weeks. What had O’Dowd and Hurdle ever done to deserve these extensions? Didn’t it prove that the organization didn’t really care about winning?

Six months later, the Rocks went to the World Series. They got no apologies. Old media were too busy capitalizing on the club’s success with special sections and special programming glorifying an organization they had excoriated earlier that same year.

This drives the owners and executives of sports organizations nuts. They see it as a total absence of accountability and intellectual honesty. Old media executives don’t much care. They believe their accountability is to the marketplace, where there’s a referendum every day.

Old media are doing what they must to survive in a world in which anyone with an internet connection and an inspiration can self-publish in an instant, a world in which advertisers have a broader array than ever before of media platforms from which to choose. In a (relatively) free market economy, old media institutions have every right to do what they feel they must to survive.

And organizations such as the Rockies have every right to chart their own course, to do what they can to avoid being punching bags. All they announced last week is that they will provide fewer artificial occasions for us to slap them around. Tracy will be employed in his current position until he’s not. Just like you or me.