“I’m going to say this, and he would not want me to say this, but ‘This one’s for Pat!’” John Elway screamed as he lifted the Lombardi Trophy above his head after the Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers at Super Bowl 50.
Elway has been eager to utter those four words ever since he returned to his beloved Broncos five years ago.
Team owner Pat Bowlen declared, "This one's for John!" while jabbing the Lombardi Trophy into the air following the Broncos' 31-24 win over Green Bay 18 years ago in San Diego after Elway helicoptered his way into NFL immortality in his fourth shot at a title.
A desire to return the favor is what drives Elway, who has guided Denver to a pair of Super Bowls from the front office to go with the five he delivered during playing career.
Super Bowl 50 is the Broncos' eighth trip to the big game, seven of which have come under Bowlen's watch, and all of those with Elway's help, first as his QB and now as his GM.
The Broncos' latest shot at glory has taken on added significance, too, because 18 months ago Alzheimer's forced Bowlen to step down from his daily duties running the team.
Bowlen, who turns 72 this month, is the first owner in pro football history to win 300 games, including playoffs, in three decades; owns more Super Bowl appearances than losing seasons (five); and has the best winning percentage in the NFL (.615) since buying the team in 1984.
At the conclusion of the Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell presented the Lombardi trophy to Pat's wife, Annabel Bowlen.
"Annabel, I know this is a special moment for you. And we are all thinking about Pat – a great man. A man who led this organization. And we’re proud you could take this back to Denver for Pat Bowlen and for your Denver Broncos fans. You’re Super Bowl Champs. Congratulations," Goodell said.
"If Pat was here today, he’d say he’s very proud of his team and the best fans in the NFL. On behalf of the Bowlen family, congratulations to the Denver Broncos. For the third time, Broncos Country, you are Super Bowl Champions!" Annabel Bowlen said at the podium.
Although Bowlen no longer pays daily visits to the office he's still a constant presence at 13655 Broncos Parkway.
"The thing that stands out is that his mission was very simple, and that was - and is - to win," team president Joe Ellis had said. Ellils has been running the team since Bowlen stepped away. "Do everything you can to win and do it the right way. And so when people come in here that have known him for a number of years, which I have and John Elway has and Gary Kubiak has, we all know exactly what he stands for. And we can execute that mission every day because we watched him do it."
They built a $38 million indoor practice facility that bears Bowlen's name two years ago. They spent $8 million to upgrade the football fields at team headquarters. They committed $109.5 million on free agents Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward following their Super Bowl loss two years ago.
"We extend every resource and put all of our efforts in to try to win Super Bowls every year," Ellis said. "We recognize that you're not going to do that each and every year, but you sure as heck better try."
Bowlen was always asking, "How can we get better?"
"It's a special group here, and Pat if he could be here every day like he was in the past, would be enormously proud of this team. He'd really, really love this team,” Ellis said.
And they love him, Kubiak said.
"We talk about Mr. B a lot," Kubiak said. "There are obviously a lot of older players in this organization that know him. There are people in this organization that know him extremely well, and there are young kids who have probably never met him, maybe have not even seen him this year. I had Joe talk to the football team ... about Mr. B, how he's doing and how he'd be very proud of this football team."
Ownership of the franchise is held in a trust Bowlen set up more than a decade ago in hopes one of his seven children will one day run the team. Until then, Ellis is doing so in a "What would Pat do?" sort of way.
Bowlen always put production ahead of profits; trained tirelessly for triathlons; fostered a winning atmosphere from the lobby to the locker room; was always quick with a compliment and sure to couch his criticism.
"It's the old catch phrase 'win-win,'" Ellis said. "He was all about that."
And this time – the Broncos did win – and they won for Pat.