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Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has Alzheimer's disease, will step down

25 Jan 1998: Owner Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos with the Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Denver Broncos defeated the Green Bay Packers 31-24.
25 Jan 1998: Owner Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos with the Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Denver Broncos defeated the Green Bay Packers 31-24.Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Pat Bowlen bought the Denver Broncos in 1984, and turned them into one of the most successful franchises in the NFL. Now, after three decades, he will cede control of his team to another.

The Broncos announced Wednesday that the 70-year-old Bowlen is battling Alzheimer’s disease, and will step down from the daily operations of the team.

“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,” said the team in a statement. “We continue to offer our full support, compassion and respect to ‘Mr. B,’ who has faced Alzheimer’s disease with such dignity and strength.”

Team president Joe Ellis will now assume control of the team. Ellis first joined the Broncos organization as their marketing director in 1983, serving in that capacity for two seasons. He returned to the Mile High City in 1998 as the executive vice president of business operations, He was named the chief operating officer in 2008, assuming the role of president in 2011.

"It's a really, really sad day," said Ellis in a statement to The Denver Post. "It's sad for his family, his wife and his seven children. It's sad for everyone in the organization. And it's sad for all the Bronco fans who know what Pat Bowlen meant to them as an owner. It's a day nobody wanted to see happen."

Since Bowlen bought the team from Edgar Kaiser in March of 1984, only the San Francisco 49ers have had a higher winning percentage (.618), than the Broncos (.604). In his tenure, the Broncos have sold out every home game, and made six trips to the Super Bowl, winning two.

"This is a sad day for the NFL,"said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement. "Pat Bowlen's leadership has been critical to the success of the Broncos and the entire NFL. From building a championship team that is a pillar of the community to his important work for the league on television and labor matters, Pat's love of the game drove him and we have all benefited from his passion and wisdom.”

Bowlen admitted to suffering from short-term memory loss in 2009. He does not intend to sell the team, having set up the Pat Bowlen Trust 10 years ago to ensure the Broncos remain in his family. A member of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, Bowlen and his wife, Annabel, have seven children.