The year was 1998. The Denver Broncos had just won their first-ever Super Bowl, and despite their immense success, a group of key players felt they needed a change to the staff.
After getting chiropractic work from Dr. Nelson Vetanze throughout the past season, players like wide receiver Rod Smith and linebacker Bill Romanowski approached head coach Mike Shanahan with the idea of adding Vetanze to the team in an official capacity.
While the coach was convinced, he still needed approval from owner Pat Bowlen.
At the time, there were exactly zero chiropractors on the payroll of an NFL team, but in a copycat league Bowlen was often the one being copied, and as a man who would do just about anything for his players, this was a no-brainer.
Vetanze became the NFL’s first team chiropractor.
As the Broncos cruised through the league in ’98 with a notably healthy roster, Bowlen also received work from the man they called “Dr. V,” and in true Bowlen fashion, even new Vetanze’s son, Mario, by name.
“That means a lot to a little kid,” 30-year-old Mario says now.
Of course, after going 14-2 in the regular season, the Broncos beat the Dolphins and Jets in the playoffs and found themselves playing for a second consecutive championship in against the Falcons in Miami.
Despite being a member of the staff, Vetanze says it wasn’t immediately clear if he would make the trip at all.
“Eventually, it was decided that I could go,” Dr. V told BSN Denver. “I was given one ticket, and I was put on the family plane.”
But during the week leading up to the game, Vetanze was doing some work on Mr. Bowlen when the trip to Miami came up. The owner wanted to know if Mario and Nelson’s wife Debby would make the trip.
Bowlen was troubled to learn that Dr. V had only been provided one ticket to the game and to the plane, so he took matters into his own hands.
“He sought to it personally that I could bring Mario and my wife,” Vetanze told BSN. “You won’t meet more of a gentleman.”
Of course, John Elway, Terrell Davis and Rod Smith led the Broncos to a 34-19 victory. The Broncos were back-to-back World Champions.
“This one’s for you!” Bowlen exclaimed with the Lombardi trophy in his hand, displaying once again that it was never about him.
“I was able to witness a Super Bowl championship really because of Mr. Bowlen’s generosity,” said Mario.
On Friday, the day Pat Bowlen’s family received the Hall-of-Fame owner’s rightful gold jacket, I shared this story with Pat’s daughter Brittany.
She lit up with a smile that one would flash upon seeing an old friend for the first time in a while.
“Oh my gosh, I love that story,” she told BSN Denver before pausing for a second. “That was him. That was so him. He just cared about people, and he put family on the highest pedestal. That doesn’t surprise me at all.”
What makes the Pat Bowlen stories like this remarkable is just how unremarkable it is to those who knew him.
In the words of former chairman of NBC Sports, Dick Ebersol, at Friday night’s Gold Jacket Dinner, “Pat Bowlen was the real deal when it came to being a man.”