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The first day of training camp for the Denver Broncos began with tears.
John Elway broke down and needed to pause to compose himself several times Wednesday as he reflected on the revelation Pat Bowlen has relinquished ownership of the team because he is suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
"This place will never be the same," Elway said.
Elway played for Bowlen from 1984 to 1998, and they won two Super Bowls together. After the first title, Bowlen shocked Elway when he handed him the Lombardi Trophy with the words, "This one's for John."
That moment forever linked Bowlen and Elway. But their partnership was formalized even further in 2011 when Bowlen entrusted Elway with all football operations.
The Broncos have won the AFC West in each of the three seasons since. Last season, Denver advanced to its first Super Bowl since Elway retired.
"My job is to run the football side the way Pat Bowlen wants it to be run. Being around him for 30 years, I know what he wants," Elway said.
To Elway, that means a singular focus on trying to win the Super Bowl, and that remains the goal for 2014 as players reported Wednesday to a somber Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Centre -- the training center Bowlen named after his father.
Though Bowlen's mental health has been deteriorating in recent years, he remained a fixture at the team facility. He was in his office nearly every day during training camp and the regular season and frequently watched practice from the sideline.
He often would stop by the offices of Elway or team President Joe Ellis, even as he had handed over the day-to-day responsibilities of running the team to those two men.
Ellis on Wednesday assumed Bowlen's title of chief executive officer of the Broncos.
"He didn't walk through the door this morning, and that's hard for people. That's really hard for people here, and it's really hard for his family," Ellis said. "It's really sad."
Bowlen placed his ownership into a trust, part of a succession plan he had been working on for a decade, with the hope one of his seven children eventually will take over as owner and CEO.
Ellis declined to talk about a timeline for when that could occur. He said he met with Bowlen's wife, Annabel, and five of his children this week and the family is focused on Bowlen's health for now.
"That's what they are coming to grips with. That's what is so agonizing for them, and the future person or child that sits in their father's seat is not in the front or the back of their mind right now," Ellis said.
Logistically, little will change with the daily operations for the Broncos.
Ellis, promoted from chief operating officer to president in 2011, when he and Bowlen together decided to hire Elway, has had authority over all team matters, with Bowlen's consultation.
That included signing quarterback Peyton Manning to a five-year, $96million contract in 2012 and a $35million upgrade to the Broncos headquarters in Englewood, Colo., which includes a complete renovation of the existing building and the construction of a massive fieldhouse.
Ellis, who started with the Broncos in 1983 and worked in the NFL office in the 1990s, recently has represented the team at the NFL owners meetings, voting in Bowlen's stead.
"On the business side, everybody understands what Pat wants. Pat wants to be the best at everything, and he wants us to do everything the right way," Ellis said.