Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen is resigning control of the team to focus on battling Alzheimer's Disease.
"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 Broncos announced 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 is assuming control of the franchise, which Bowlen purchased in 1984 when the team faced bankruptcy. In 16 playoff appearances, the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl six times.
"He didn't walk through the door this morning," Ellis said at a morning press conference at the team's headquarters, fighting back emotion. "And that's hard. It's hard for us. It's hard for his family."
Bowlen was instrumental in pushing for and landing Peyton Manning in Denver along with general manager and vice president of football operations John Elway.
"This is a sad day for the NFL," commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday in a statement released by the league. "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. But the time has come for Pat to focus on his health and we fully support him. Joe Ellis has been a trusted executive for Pat for many years after working with us at the league office. Joe's deep experience ensures that the Broncos will continue to have strong leadership."
The Pat Bowlen Trust was established to keep the team in the family. Bowlen has seven children and there is no plan to sell the team.
Ellis, who has worked with Bowlen in some capacity for 25 years, said Wednesday that he will be the executor of the family trust. He emphasized that all of the trustees will have a voice, but Bowlen will remain the owner.
"It is Mr. Bowlen's hope that a child will come along and earn the right to sit in his seat and run the team," Ellis said. "I've spoken with them ... they understand no one can fill Pat Bowlen's shoes."
The Broncos said in a release that the succession plan was first discussed by the Bowlen family more than a decade ago. Ellis said the future of the team is secondary for the family at present, with Bowlen's health and the realization that he is unable to function in the same capacity he has for decades is the focus.
"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," said Annabel Bowlen. "He has elected to keep his condition private because he has strongly believed, and often said, 'It's not about me.'
"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. 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."
Ellis said he respected and appreciated media not running with speculation about Bowlen's health in recent years when many were aware of his condition.
Ellis became team president in 2011 and serves as the team's chief executive officer as league matters require.
"I learned everything from him," said Ellis, who apologized for talking about Pat Bowlen in the past tense. "I received calls and emails from around the league, the outpouring of support has been tremendous. Pat's still alive -- but the finality of this announcement is hard for people to come to grips with."