By Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4) – When Pat Bowlen publicly acknowledged in 2014 he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and would no longer oversee the Broncos, his wife Annabel said the Broncos owner “has very bravely and quietly battled Alzheimer’s disease for the last few years.” She said he kept his condition private because he believed “It’s not about me.”

Now, Bowlen’s brother, Bill, and niece, Julie, are detailing how early they believe Pat began suffering from dementia and the impacts they believe it had on their family and the team.

Julie Bowlen (credit: CBS)

“Pat never thought this was going to happen to him,” said Julie, a registered nurse. “I don’t think anyone ever thinks they are going to get Alzheimer’s or dementia, especially not as early as it hit him.”

Julie and her father believe Pat began showing signs of dementia as early as 2006.

“In those early years of Pat’s dementia setting in, we saw things, but never really put the pieces together,” said Julie. “We kick ourselves for not seeing it for what it was and not being there for Pat.”

Julie recounted seeing her uncle in 2008 in what she called a “bizarre” encounter in which he did not recognize her, even though they had seen each other a week earlier at a Broncos game.

She said around that time, he began deferring decisions to others, which she said was out of character for the Broncos owner.

“The Pat Bowlen I knew before all of this, you didn’t tell him what to do, he told you what he was doing.”

Bill and Julie said Pat became more reclusive and less outgoing, deferring decisions to others.

“He wouldn’t talk about much of anything,” said Bill. “He didn’t know what to ask.”

Julie points out that Alzheimer’s patients “can be coerced or manipulated. They can become agreeable to things they normally wouldn’t be agreeable to.”

While a judge has ruled Pat Bowlen knew what he was doing in 2009 when he updated his will and trust, giving control and authority over the team’s direction to three trustees if he died or became incapacitated, Julie and her father have doubts about his ability to completely recognize what was happening.

Owner Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos with the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl XXXII. The Denver Broncos defeated the Green Bay Packers 31-24. (credit: Jamie Squire /Allsport)

“If this can happen to Pat Bowlen, it can happen to anyone,”  said Julie. “I don’t want to ever see a family go through what we have had to go through in the last number of years because it’s horrible.”

Dan Reilly, an attorney for the three Broncos trustees, declined to comment on this report.
Since 2016, the team has declined, chalking up four straight losing seasons. They are 5-5 this season heading into their bye week.

The Bowlen family has been fractured according to Julie and her father.

“There has been a battle within the family, within the organization,” said Julie. “We all want Pat back. Things were good when he was in charge. Things have not been good without him in charge.”

Pat Bowlen died in 2019 at age 75. “What is missing is leadership, accountability, a standard of excellence,” she said.

With November being Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month, the niece of the late owner said she believes some members of the Bowlen family will push to get more protection for people suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“I do think there are people in this family who will push to have laws changed, or created to protect people in the situation that our family has been in and that Pat was in.”

Holding back tears, Julie said, “I’m sorry it’s ending like this. I’m sorry it’s come to this. There is a lot of pain and hurt that’s happened over the last number of years, and I hope one day it heals.”

Find more information about signs of Alzheimer’s.

Learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado.

Brian Maass