DENVER — Thousands of Broncos fans came to Broncos Stadium at Mile High to celebrate the life of late owner Pat Bowlen on Tuesday.
The tribute was set up inside the club level west lounge at Broncos Stadium, which saw a steady stream of hundreds of fans, Bowlen family members, and current and former Broncos players and staffers passing through to remember Bowlen and his achievements over the years.
The Broncos said they estimated more than 5,000 people attended the memorial, which went two hours past the scheduled 3 p.m. end time, as Bowlen family members stuck around to greet fans and others for more than five hours.
Bowlen passed away on Thursday, June 13 at the age of 75 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Inside the memorial, fans saw memorabilia dating back to Bowlen’s early years as Broncos owner, including the AFC Championship trophies from 1986, 1987 and 1989. The Broncos would finally go on to win their first Super Bowl in 1998 against the Green Bay Packers. The trophies from all three Broncos Super Bowl victories were on display.
In addition to football memorabilia, the memorial included several photographs and items from Bowlen’s private life. A visitation area gave fans a chance to quietly mourn and pay their respects.
“He was one of the greatest owners the NFL has ever known,” said Bob Volpe. “He’s put money out of his own pocket to support the team.”
One by one, fans wound through room after room of trophies and footballs. Bowlen’s desk was on display as well as his iconic fur coat and his Pro Football Hall of Fame jacket.
“I’ve got to admit he was amazing with what he had done — especially for Denver,” said Abe Lopez.
In one room, a pianist dressed in all white played songs as people passed through the memorial.
“It was such a tribute but it was also still a memorial for him and just to see that piano and the beautiful roses there,” said Dar Lopez.
At the end of the display, there was a picture of Bowlen surrounded by a wall of white roses. Bowlen’s family stood near the exit and shook the hands of hundreds of fans and thanked them for coming.
Fans Denver7 spoke with said they didn’t know Bowlen personally but that he was important to the community and to the Broncos.
“You felt like you knew him, and you felt like he knew you. He did everything for the fans,” Chris Trujillo said. “He will be sorely missed.”
Many of the fans shared memories about a time they met Bowlen in passing and either got a picture with him or got his autograph. Many dressed in their Broncos gear and brought their children with them.
“He’s the next generation,” Manual Flores said about his son. “When he grows up, he’ll have this memory.”
Along with thousands of fans, Mayor Michael Hancock, Peyton Manning, John Elway and others came to pay their respects to the family.
A group of Boys and Girls Club kids also came to pay their respects to the family and to see the tribute for themselves. Bowlen made major donations to the Boys and Girls club over the years.
“He’s a person that anybody can kind of modeled their life after as far as what he has done off the field and on the field,” said Trevor Philipps.