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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – How many NFL owners would annually challenge his employees to a college football pick 'em pool?

That's just one of the things that made Pat Bowlen, who resigned Wednesday as owner of the Broncos because of Alzheimer's disease, so unique, former Broncos safety John Lynch said – even if Bowlen's pick was predictable.

"He always picked Oklahoma. So if Oklahoma was good, he was good," Lynch told USA TODAY Sports, laughing. "We just had a blast."

Lynch met Bowlen years before he eventually signed with the Broncos, as both Lynch and Bowlen and their families crossed paths winter after winter while on ski vacations at Beaver Creek. When Mike Shanahan recruited Lynch to the Broncos as a free agent in 2004, Lynch's history with Bowlen – and Denver's proximity to his favorite ski resort – were among the reasons he chose the Broncos.

Not long after Lynch signed his contract, Bowlen called him into his office.

"I know you love it. But you're a member of the Denver Broncos. You don't ski anymore," Lynch recalled Bowlen saying. "I was like 'What?! That's part of the reason I signed here!' "

Lynch kept him promise to Bowlen to stay off Colorado's ski slopes. (But not the ones in Montana. "I couldn't give it up," Lynch said, laughing.)

Bowlen had that sort of personal relationship with likely hundreds of players, most of whom affectionately called him "Mr. B." in his three decades owning the Broncos. Though he let the coaches he hired coach, and the general managers he hired build the roster, Bowlen wanted to know his players. And they wanted to know him back.

"Players wanted him to be around," general manager John Elway said. "He was down at practice, and he was at training camp. He was one of those, and as a player, you love to see your owner on the field and around, because then you know it means a lot to him. "

Nothing meant more to Elway than when Bowlen handed him the Lombardi Trophy, with the words, "This one's for John," after the Broncos won their first Super Bowl championship in January 1998. Elway made a wisecrack Wednesday that he was shocked to receive Bowlen's praise because, "heck, I only threw for 130 yards," he said, yet to both men, the moment was bigger than just that one day. Elway was in his second year when Bowlen bought the team in 1984, and together they had endured three previous Super Bowl losses.

"It was probably the most humbling, thrilled feeling I've ever had in my life, when we were finally able to win that championship, and Pat handed me that trophy," Elway said. "There will never be a more special time in my career than when he said that."

But it wasn't just the major moments that endeared Bowlen to his players.

Former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer told USA TODAY Sports he always felt like Bowlen was listening to players, and that he was responsive to even the most minor requests. When players asked for televisions in the locker room so they could watch sports in their down time, days later Bowlen had them installed. When players complained that there was no place to eat at the facility while players were there for offseason workouts, Bowlen had a cafeteria built.

It wasn't uncommon, Plummer said, for Bowlen to join players for lunch in that cafeteria, or for Bowlen to be working in the gym alongside side them.

"It was awesome playing for an owner that really cared about the players, first and foremost," Plummer said. "Playing with the Arizona Cardinals and then coming to the Broncos, it was just a totally different mentality from the owner. Everything he did was about the players. He wanted us to be as comfortable as possible and as little to think about as possible so we could think about what we were there to do, and that was to play football."

Plummer's football tenure with the Broncos ended poorly, benched by Mike Shanahan 2006 for rookie Jay Cutler, and he spent several years disconnected from the franchise after retiring and moving to Idaho. That changed two years ago when Bowlen invited Plummer to visit the team facility and watch the 2012 season opener against Pittsburgh in Bowlen's private suite at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

"It wasn't his call, and that's another reason why he's a great owner. He lets his football people, whether it's the head coach or GM, make those kind of decisions. I knew that he respected me and I knew there was never anything I did wrong for him to have a reason to dislike me as a player," Plummer said. "He welcomed me with open arms, and not just me, everyone who played in a Bronco uniform. He loves it. He said he lives for that, to see his old players come back through those doors and rekindle that feeling you had when you were playing."

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