Bowlen died last week after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. He was 75.
Bob and Marilyn Stark of Colorado Springs have been Broncos fans since the 1960s. They wore orange-colored homemade shirts with Bowlen’s face on the front, and his long list of accomplishments on the back.
“His legacy is the fact that he’s a champion,” Bob Stark said. “He’s a champion in life and he’s a champion, more than anything, of people.”
Bob Stark rattled off Bowlen’s statistics: Three Super Bowl wins, seven Super Bowl appearances and AFC titles.
“He always put people first. By doing that, he let them know that they were important, that they mattered. And he really let them know that he believed in them. And what did that result in? All these championships.”
Inside the stadium, a long stream of fans funneled in to look at Bowlen memorabilia, including Bowlen photos and game balls. The tribute included a large white floral display with a large portrait of Bowlen, and a separate floral arrangement that spelled out, “Mr. B.”
There was even space for Bowlen’s trademark blue-colored sport coat and orange tie. And there’s his famous — or infamous — fur coat, one that he wore on the sidelines in Cleveland during the 1986 AFC Championship Game.
“He got razzed big time for that one,” longtime Broncos fan Maryellen Vialpando of Arvada said of Bowlen’s fancy coat, as she let out a long laugh.
Vialpando said Bowlen was “the best NFL owner there was.”
“He cared more about his team and his fans than anything. He just was a very caring person. He cared about his players and fans. He put that above everything else. He was just a good person.”
Broncos superfan Jesse Esquibel said losing Bowlen was like having a death in the family.
“With Father's Day just passing I feel like he was our father," Esquibel said. "He really made us who we are today. I never got a chance to meet him but I felt very close to him.”
As Broncos fans mourn, they also turn their attention to team control. Even before Bowlen’s death, there was uncertainty within the Broncos organization over who would take over the team. A few legal battles are playing out right now among Bowlen family members.
The uncertainty doesn’t sit well with Broncos fan Dominic Wilson of Lakewood.
“Hopefully just whoever takes over within the family, they’re doing it for the best interest of the team itself," Wilson said. "And of course for us fans, we want to win, but hopefully they don’t go into it for the money and bring the whole team crashing down.”
Whoever takes over the team will have big shoes to fill.
"It's an end of an era," Marilyn Stark said. "And you never know what the future's gonna be. Anyone who takes over the team has a lot to live up to. Can they maintain the excellence that he started and brought to the team? I don't know, but today's a sad day ... I don't think across the league there's been the same reaction to another owner's passing than what we're seeing with Pat."