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'None Of This Had To Happen': Bowlen Family Members Detail Internal Battle For The Broncos

DENVER (CBS4) - Bill Bowlen, the younger brother of late Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, says the death of his brother and subsequent power struggle for the team has torn his family apart. It also raised questions about Pat Bowlen's mental capacity when he made some critical legal decisions affecting the team's future direction.

Bill Bowlen
(credit: CBS)

"It didn't have to happen this way, that's what really gets me," lamented Bill. "It's really sad that this has been able to tear a family apart the way it has, and that really hurts."

The on-camera comments from Bowlen family members were the first since several legal actions related to control of the team were resolved. Bill and his daughter, Julie, spoke to CBS4 in several interviews.

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"I think it's important for Denver and the fans to understand a little bit more about what happened," said Julie. "It has really been a downhill spiral since Pat stepped away from the team."

Pat bought the Broncos in 1984. His siblings later bought stakes in the team, but Pat eventually bought out Bill and a sister. Under Pat's regime, the Broncos established a reputation for excellence, winning Super Bowls and regularly winning AFC West titles and reaching the playoffs 18 times.

The last four seasons have seen a drop off with the team tallying losing seasons.
In 2014, Pat publicly acknowledged he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and he gave up control over day-to-day operations of the team.

At the time, his wife Annabel said in a statement,

"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 Bowlen died in 2019 at the age of 75.

Bill and Julie claim Pat appeared to be suffering cognitive decline and signs of dementia as early as 2006, three years before he updated his will and trust which named three trustees to manage the team if he became incapacitated or died.

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In the new CBS4 interview, Bill said he saw signs of cognitive impairment when Pat eulogized their mother after her death in 2006. Bill called the eulogy "strange as if he didn't write it."

Bill said his brother's remembrance seemed to be more about the Broncos than their mother.
He said his brother became more reclusive and exhibited other signs of impairment. He said he had always been close with his older brother, but found it increasingly difficult to reach him.

At one point, he said he tried to call Pat, but his cellphone number had changed.

"I couldn't get ahold of him, and I had to phone the office to get Pat's new phone number, and they would not give me my brother's cellphone number."

Bill said when he was able to speak to his brother, "He wouldn't talk about much of anything, he didn't know what to ask."

Julie said, "I think there were a lot of signs he had cognitive issues at that point."

She says in 2010, when the Broncos played a game in London, her father spoke to Pat.

"My dad walked back to me and said, 'I don't think he had any idea who I was. Something was not right.'"

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Observations like those suggest to Bill and Julie that Pat should not have been signing critical legal documents in 2009 when he updated his will and trust, turning control and authority over the Broncos to three trustees: team official Joe Ellis, team lawyer Rich Slivka and another attorney, Mary Kelly.

Kelly's husband, Dan Reilly, is also the lawyer representing the three trustees. He declined to comment to CBS4 on the timeline provided by Bill and Julie Bowlen.

Although Pat was still speaking publicly in 2008, when he fired Mike Shanahan as head coach, in 2009, Bowlen told sportswriter Woody Paige, "I have short term memory loss. I know some of the memories of the Super Bowl championships are fading."

Bill filed a lawsuit in 2018 challenging the trustees authority, contending they were mired in conflicts of interest and had failed to act in Pat Bowlen's best interest. That lawsuit was dismissed shortly after Pat Bowlen's death in 2019.

Two of Pat's daughters, Amie Klemmer and Beth Bowlen Wallace, filed a similar lawsuit in 2019 seeking to invalidate their father's trust, alleging he did not have the capacity to sign trust documents in 2009. The lawsuit was dismissed last July with the judge writing the update to Pat's will and trust was "valid and enforceable" and reflected "Patrick D. Bowlen's intent and will."

Beth Bowlen Wallace and another of Bowlen's daughters, Brittany Bowlen, both expressed interest in eventually taking over the team. The three trustees appeared to favor Brittany over Beth.

"They chose to pit two children against each other and take sides. They have fractured this family possibly beyond repair," Julie said.

With Pat's children split, Bill and Julie believe it is inevitable the team will be sold, which they say is the last thing Pat wanted.

"Pat would have been very upset, very upset," said Bill. He said his brother wanted the team to remain in control of his family.

"It didn't have to happen this way," said Bill. "That's what really gets me."

Bowlen said he remains proud of his brother's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his accomplishments as the Broncos owner.

"I don't care what anybody says, in his tenure he was the best flipping owner there was in the NFL. I mean we had a really good run."

RELATED: 'If This Can Happen To Pat Bowlen, It Can Happen To Anyone': Pat Bowlen's Relatives Reveal Alzheimer's Disease Impacts

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