Englewood, CO (SportsNetwork.com) - Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has relinquished day-to-day control of the team due to Alzheimer's disease.
The team made the announcement Wednesday, saying the 70-year-old Bowlen had been privately battling the disease in recent years.
"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 club's statement read. "We continue to offer our full support, compassion and respect to 'Mr. B,' who has faced Alzheimer's disease with such dignity and strength."
Bowlen had already placed his ownership share into a trust that is controlled by non-family members with a long-term goal for one his seven children to eventually run the franchise.
"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 statement continued.
Daily operations of the team will be assumed by club president Joe Ellis and John Elway will continue to run the football department. Ellis, who will take on the role of CEO, has spent the past 17 years with the Broncos, while Elway rejoined the club in the front office in January 2011.
"Mr. Bowlen has entrusted Joe and me to run this franchise the way he would want it to run," said an emotional Elway at a news conference Wednesday. "It's a sad, sad day. Pat's been a mentor. He's been someone I've looked up to. I wouldn't be where I am today without Pat Bowlen. I can't say enough for what he's done for me."
Bowlen, who purchased the team in 1984, told the Denver Post in May 2009 that he was suffering from short-term memory loss. The family and team told the paper early Wednesday that his condition had developed into Alzheimer's disease, a brain condition that progressively worsens and has no cure.
"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," said Bowlen's wife, Annabel, in a statement. "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."
Bowlen was one of the leaders in the NFL, serving on ownership committees that included labor and broadcasting.
The Broncos have reached the Super Bowl six times during Bowlen's 30-year tenure, winning back-to-back titles after the 1997 and '98 seasons. Denver lost to Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII in February.