ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Denver Broncos team owner Pat Bowlen is stepping down from day-to-day operations because he is battling Alzheimer's Disease, the team announced Wednesday.
"Pat Bowlen didn't walk through the door this morning and that's really hard for people," Broncos CEO Joe Ellis said during a crowded noon press conference.
The Broncos said Bowlen had already been reducing his role in recent years while he was, "courageously and privately battling Alzheimer’s disease."
"The Broncos are very saddened that Mr. Bowlen is no longer able to be part of the team’s daily operations due to his condition," the team said on its website. "We continue to offer our full support, compassion and respect to ‘Mr. B,’ who has faced Alzheimer’s disease with such dignity and strength."
Ellis, the team's president, will assume control of the Broncos and add the title of Chief Operating Executive.
"It's Pat Bowlen's team," Ellis said. "He asked me to run the team and I will do that."
Ellis said nothing will change. It will be business as usual.
"Normally today would be a day of great excitement,” Ellis said about the reporting day Wednesday and training camp starting Thursday. "But today is a day of sadness for us."
The Broncos said Bowlen’s ownership of the Broncos is held in a trust -- Pat Bowlen Trust -- overseen by non-family trustees.
"Plans for this trust were arranged by Mr. Bowlen beginning more than a decade ago as part of his succession plan to keep the Broncos in the Bowlen family," the Broncos said.
"It's Pat Bowlen's team, he's the owner," Ellis said.
Ellis said Bowlen's long-term hope is that one of his children will run the Broncos in the future.
A very emotional John Elway said Wednesday that, "this place will never be the same."
Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback who lead the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl Championships, played for Bowlen for years and has served in Bowlen's executive team for the past three years.
"It's a sad, sad day," Elway said. "He's been a mentor, somebody I looked up to. I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am today without Pat Bowlen."
"Having worked for him for 30 years, it’s going to be very hard to not see him walk through the front doors every day," Elway said.
Bowlen first revealed to The Denver Post in May 2009 that he was experiencing short-term memory loss. The newspaper said this is the first time the family and team has acknowledged that the condition had developed into Alzheimer's Disease.
Bowlen's wife, Annabel Bowlen, released a statement Wednesday via the Broncos website:
"As many in the Denver community and around the National Football League have speculated, my husband, Pat, has very bravely and quietly battled Alzheimer’s disease for the last few years. He has elected to keep his condition private because he has strongly believed, and often said, ‘It’s not about me.’
"Pat has always wanted the focus to be solely on the Denver Broncos and the great fans who have supported this team with such passion during his 30 years as owner. My family is deeply saddened that Pat’s health no longer allows him to oversee the Broncos, which has led to this public acknowledgment of such a personal health condition.
"Alzheimer’s has taken so much from Pat, but it will never take away his love for the Denver Broncos and his sincere appreciation for the fans.
“My family will stand strong with Pat as he continues his courageous fight against a disease that is unfortunately all too common. One in nine people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s, and my family is experiencing the same difficult emotions that so many have felt when someone they love and respect is afflicted with this condition.
"Although we wish Pat were in better health, he developed a plan many years ago for the continuation of his values with the hope of keeping the Broncos in the Bowlen family. I know that his goals will be effectively implemented by Joe Ellis, who has worked with Pat for nearly his entire ownership of the Broncos.
"Long-term, I fully support Pat’s hope of keeping the Denver Broncos in the Bowlen family.
"I am extremely proud of Pat’s incredible accomplishments as owner of the Broncos, most notably the winning tradition he has established and the positive impact he has made in our community. Pat would be the first to say that none of the Broncos’ success would be possible without the players, coaches, employees and fans whom he’s shared such a strong connection with over the years.
"On behalf of Pat and the rest of my family, I want to thank all Broncos fans for their overwhelming support and how respectful they continue to be of his privacy. We look forward to sharing many more successful seasons of Denver Broncos football with you."
The news of Bowlen's departure from the team was first reported by our partners at the Denver Post.