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Perhaps you don’t believe in ghosts or karma. But while the Broncos were wooing George Paton as the general manager to restore our local NFL team’s lost glory, the spirit of late franchise owner Pat Bowlen was in the room.
If it all goes according to plan and the football acumen of Paton allows a member of the Bowlen family to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as confetti swirls after the fourth Super Bowl victory in team history, we will look back fondly at an hour-long, private meeting between Brittany Bowlen and Paton.
And the room where it happened? Mr. B’s old office, which stands like a shrine to excellence at Broncos headquarters.
“They went into Pat’s office to talk,” team CEO Joe Ellis told me Wednesday. “I thought that was the best place where they could get a sense of history of the team and its success through Pat’s influence.”
This is a peek inside the story of how George met Brittany. And, just maybe, it was the beginning of a business partnership between the two most important people that will shape the team’s fortunes for the next six years … and beyond.
As Paton began to emerge among five finalists as the leading candidate to replace John Elway as general manager, Ellis suggested the longtime front-office executive with the Minnesota Vikings meet Brittany. The reason? Simple.
“If the team stays in the Bowlen family,” Ellis told Paton, “it’s going to be Brittany as the owner.”
During 14 years with the Vikings, Paton was involved in the acquisition of big-time talent, from drafting Stefon Diggs to trading for Jared Allen. But he has never been the main man to shape a championship contender. So I think it’s fair to frankly wonder:
Will Paton have the guts to tell John Elway: “No!”
Although Elway, who has defined everything orange and blue in Denver since 1983, insists he’s itching to be a grandpa that plays golf and enjoys the best breakfast that $40 — yes, 40 American dollars — can buy at his namesake restaurant, I admit to trepidation that Old. No. 7 won’t be the retiring type when big decisions are made regarding the Broncos.
Did Paton get this job by telling Elway what he wanted to hear?
Well, this is how we will begin to unravel that mystery: Even a knucklehead like me knows that it’s time for the team to move on from running back Melvin Gordon and cornerback A.J. Bouye, both bad Elway ideas.
But if Drew Lock is the starting quarterback for the 2021 season-opener and linebacker Von Miller is lined up opposite Bradley Chubb on the team’s first defensive snap, it will be pretty obvious the most imaginative idea Paton has in mind for his first 12 months on the job is to get the Vonster healthy and basically run it all back from the 5-11 debacle of last season.
Although she kept close tabs on the hiring process, Brittany was not an active participant during formal interviews. In retrospect, however, the impromptu confab with Paton in her father’s office was a very strong indicator the Broncos felt confident landing their clear No. 1 choice as general manager.
What did they talk about? Well, said Ellis, “She wasn’t asking George about what he was going to do at quarterback.”
What the chosen Bowlen child and the man who would be G.M. sought was common ground to build a working chemistry. They talked family values and how they apply to a family football business, as well as why there’s no sunnier place in the NFL to win than Broncos Country. When a visit expected to last 10 minutes evolved into an hour discussion, a bond that could drive the team’s blues away had begun to take form.
“There always have been and always will be the resources for the Broncos to win,” said Ellis, confident of winning an upcoming court battle that will determine if the team will stay in the family or be sold to an outsider. “Anybody who owns the team, whether it’s Brittany Bowlen or somebody else, will do everything possible to make her or his team succeed on the field. Nobody gets in this game to lose.”
Above and beyond the legacy of Mr. B, winning football is considered a birthright in the Rockies, because the rabid fans of Broncos Country won’t tolerate anything less.
A six-year deal with Paton was closed Tuesday evening in old-school, Mad Men fashion over large portions of red meat at the Cherry Creek mothership of the Elway steak empire. When Paton emerged earlier in the day from his meeting with Brittany, however, it was all but a done deal.
“I teased Brittany,” Ellis recalled with a chuckle, “that she could’ve blown this hire for us.”
The daughter angling to be the heir to Mr. B’s big chair, however, inherited more than a little competitive feistiness from her late father.
Before the Broncos tabbed Paton to end the team’s five-year playoff drought, Brittany mischievously fired back at Ellis: “Be sure to text me when (Paton) gets hired … so I can get full credit.”