ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen is giving up control of the team because of Alzheimer's disease.
The 70-year-old Bowlen will no longer be a part of the club's daily operations, the Broncos announced Wednesday. Team president Joe Ellis is adding the title of chief executive officer and will have final say on all matters.
"Today is a day of sadness for us, it's a day of tremendous sadness for the Bowlen family, all of our employees, people around the National Football League, and this region and this community," Ellis said during an afternoon news conference. "Pat wants us to do two things. He wants us to win, he's always wanted that and will continue to want that. Also he's always wanted everybody here to do things the right way."
The Broncos say the ownership of the franchise is held in a trust Bowlen set up more than a decade ago in hopes that one of his seven children will one day run the team.
"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. He has elected to keep his condition private because he has strongly believed, and often said, 'It's not about me,'" Bowlen's wife, Annabel, said in a statement Wednesday.
"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," she added.
"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," Annabel said.
John Elway, Hall of Fame quarterback and current Broncos executive vice president of football operations, also spoke at the news conference and had difficulty containing his emotions.
"It's a sad, sad day," Elway said. "Pat has been a mentor, somebody I've looked up to. I can't say enough for what he's done for me ... and I know what this football team meant to him. Other than his family, it was the most important thing in his life."
Business is expected to go on as usual at Broncos headquarters.
Bowlen had reduced his public appearances in recent years, although he was still a fixture at the team's Dove Valley complex and at all of its games. After acknowledging in 2009 that he suffered short-term memory loss, he stepped back from day-to-day operations in 2011 when he promoted Ellis to president.
For the first time this offseason, Ellis represented the Broncos at the annual owners meetings. He previously worked as the Broncos' marketing director from 1983 to 1985, then rejoined the team in 1998 as its executive vice president of business operations. In 2008, Ellis was named the team's chief operating officer, and in 2011, he was named team president.
Under Bowlen's guidance, the Broncos won six AFC titles and two Super Bowls. At 307-203-1, Bowlen and New York Giants founder Tim Mara are the only three-decade owners in pro football history to win 60 percent of their games.