The Denver Broncos seem to be dealing with ownership issues. Owner Pat Bowlen stepped down three years ago due to his battle with Alzheimer’s disease and the team was turned over to a trust, one made 10 years ago. Members of the family aren’t named in the trust, but it’s purpose is to be there until one of Bowlen’s seven children could take over the team after following certain criteria for ownership.
So enter Beth Bowlen, Pat Bowlen’s second oldest child. Beth Bowlen wants to become controlling owner of the Broncos. The trust says otherwise and there are some battlelines getting drawn. All of it is preluding a mess with some people begging John Elway and Peyton Manning to buy the team outright.
Pat Bowlen was a well respected owner in the Broncos community and the NFL. But with all this drama, I can’t help but be reminded of another story with the San Francisco 49ers regarding families and owners. Yep, Eddie DeBartolo and that mess.
Then-49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo was a beloved figure on the team as well. Unfortunately, Mr. D (as the team affectionately called him) got caught up in a corruption case involving former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards. It all stemmed from DeBartolo attempting to obtain a license to operate a river boat casino, but not getting anything. DeBartolo wound up doing a deal with prosecutors in order to testify against Edwards. When all this legal proceedings settled, DeBartolo had to deal with the NFL and was barred from active control of the 49ers for a year.
Enter: Denise York (DeBartolo’s sister) to take care of things. Once DeBartolo’s suspension was up, he was engulfed in another legal battle with his sister of all people, this time to get his team back. The negotiations started and ended with the Yorks getting control of the team. DeBartolo did comment on this moment in his life a few years back:
“Truthfully, the team really wasn’t taken away from me. I think it’s been a misnomer for many many years. Commissioner Tagliabue did obviously suspend me, but as I was going through negotiations with my family and we went through these negotiations and we went through them with lawyers, obviously and with a judge in Akron, Ohio. It did not come down to that team being taken, it came down to a decision that had to be made whether or not I wanted the 49ers or whether or not I wanted to take the other part of the company. And I figured at that time, and my sister Denise [49ers owner Denise York] was involved totally as was her family. I decided in that meeting in Akron Ohio, that I thought it would be best that I took the other side and my tenure with the 49ers would end then and end there. I don’t know if that story has ever been told, it may have been, it may have not been. But, it really was a choice, I figured there was more to do with my life at that time. I had succeeded and done a lot with the 49ers. It meant the world to me, but I figured with my daughters, with them getting older and obviously with all of us getting older and having grandchildren at the time, and them planning on families, that it would be best for me to do what was best to be a good grandfather, be a good husband and dad, and do what I want to do and maybe travel a little bit and spend more time with my family.”
The whole thing has left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths. The Yorks made several changes that didn’t go over well with the fanbase, notably firing head coach Steve Mariucci and replacing him with Dennis Erickson. The 49ers would then sink into absolute mediocrity, having a brief respite with the hiring of Jim Harbaugh, but would ‘mutually part ways’ after four seasons.
York has her detractors but a lot of the dislike has fallen on her son Jed, who is currently the 49ers CEO. DeBartolo has publicly endorsed his nephew on several occasions, but one has to wonder if things have been mended from what happened.
Selling the team and getting a new owner is one thing, but family battles for ownership is something that gets ugly. Especially when it’s concerning an owner that was beloved as Pat Bowlen was. The only thing more sad is the fans skeptical of who will take over the team and if it will be taken care of. 49ers fans definitely have been through their own version of this.