Ed McCaffrey remembers Pat Bowlen for his loyalty to the players

The image of Ed McCaffrey in midair, with his face grimacing in pain and his left leg bent in a way that no leg should ever bend, may always be ingrained in the minds of Broncos fans.

After leaping for a one-handed grab in the third quarter of the Broncos’ 2001 opener, McCaffrey was pummeled by New York Giants safety Shaun Williams. The Broncos’ star receiver lay on the ground, reeling in pain. Shortly after trainers whisked him off the field on a cart, his leg stuffed in a blue boot and his career hanging in the balance.

But the image McCaffrey remembers from the aftermath is one no fan, no reporter got to see.

For much of his long recovery, McCaffrey was confined to the Broncos’ training and weight room, spending hours every day on a stationary bike to try to rebuild strength in his leg.

Pat Bowlen, the longtime owner of the Broncos, ensured McCaffrey had company during his rehabilitation. When McCaffrey rode, Bowlen often rode, too. Once in the morning. Again in the afternoon.

“We’d hop on the bike and ride for about an hour, hour and 20 minutes,” said McCaffrey, a key figure on two Broncos winning Super Bowl teams. “We talked and joked and hung out. He was a phenomenal bike rider, I can tell you that. He kept himself in great physical shape, and he really enjoyed being around the team and the players. He really loved football. He loved the Broncos. And I appreciated that, as an owner, he took the time to hang out with me and train with me during a difficult time in my career.”

Bowlen was there from Day One. He first met McCaffrey the day he signed with the Broncos in 1995.

Bowlen attended practices. He would get close to the huddle. He would train with players in the weight room. He was at every game.

Bowlen was committed and attentive, but he never interfered with coaches, McCaffrey said.

“That’s what I admired most about him,” said McCaffrey, who returned to play all 16 games in 2002. “He was very engaged with the team and loved the team, but didn’t try to make football decisions for the coaches and players. You have to appreciate that. Not every owner is that way, and Broncos fans should feel blessed that Pat was willing to make that commitment to help bring Super Bowls to Colorado.”

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