DENVER — Several years ago, Broncos longtime athletic trainer Steve Antonopulos sat back in his chair at UCHealth Center, fighting back tears.
He was telling the story of Pat Bowlen, the man and their friendship. The year was 1984. Bowlen was hurting. Against advice, he decided to ride his bike from the team’s old headquarters on 5700 Logan Street in Denver to the team’s training camp in Greeley. Bowlen was an Iron Man participant, so why not mix training with football? Greek listened as Bowlen described the pain in his broken collarbone.
The injury resonated with Antonopulos. He had treated countless injured players. But an owner this driven? The moment forever stuck with him.
“I asked him, ‘What did you do?’ And here he was mad he got hurt because it could affect his training. I will always remember his competitiveness. He wanted to be the best at everything he did. I mean, just look at this place,” Antonopulos said, glancing at the Broncos’ plush headquarters. “None of this is possible without him. None of it. ”
Their friendship, strengthened over daily morning updates about the health of players, has spanned Bowlen’s entire tenure as owner. So perhaps it should come as no surprise the Bowlen family chose Antonopulos as Pat Bowlen’s presenter into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August, the Broncos confirmed to Denver7.
Antonopulos becomes only the second athletic trainer to receive the honor. He was informed last week.
"When (CEO) Joe Ellis called me, I couldn't say anything. I was overwhelmed," Antonopulos said Tuesday afternoon in the lobby of team headquarters. "I went into another room and cried my eyes out. It was such an honor. "We just clicked. Everything we did, we just had a special relationship. It was a cool deal. To get this request from the family, it really is special and overwhelming."
The two forged a friendship over the past three decades. Antonopulous knows how Bowlen’s desire for excellence fueled the team’s unprecedented success, including three Super Bowl titles.
“But he wasn’t looking for credit,” said Antonopulous. "That wasn't him. We want to do everything to help us win. But it wasn't about him. He was a humble man."
Bowlen will receive his due in August as he joins cornerback Champ Bailey in Canton. Bowlen, who stepped down from the daily operations of the team in 2014 as he battles Alzheimer’s disease, guided a team that boasts as many Super Bowl berths as losing seasons (seven) over the past 36 years. The Broncos own 18 playoff appearances and 12 division titles during his tenure.
Bowlen has long deserved to join legends in Canton. And “The Greek,” who still regularly visits Bowlen, will help explain why when he presents him.
"You got used to how competitive he was. He worked out all day long. That guy was crazy, the way he worked. It was unbelievable how he was. During the playoffs, he was always finding out everything he could to help us win. And when we finally did, you really saw his compassion."