ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — John Elway might have been the expected choice.
But go deeper into the workings of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and it becomes clear Steve Antonopulos was the best choice.
It was the Bowlen family who decided "Greek" – as everyone has called Antonopulos during his going on 44 seasons as a Broncos’ trainer – would be Pat Bowlen’s official presenter when the owner is inducted as a contributor into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 3.
"Because he embodies the humility and integrity and character of our dad," Brittany Bowlen said as 9News caught her on the way out the Broncos’ headquarters doors to ask about the family’s selection of Antonopulos.
Look at it this way, Bowlen was known to shed the spotlight and operate behind the scenes. "Greek" practically lords over the behind-the-scenes activities at Broncos headquarters.
Bowlen’s first stop every morning since he bought the Broncos in 1984? The trainer’s room where Antonopulos was ready with his detailed updates.
"It was a neat way to develop a friendship," Antonopulos said in a sit-down interview with 9News on Tuesday. "It started as all business. He wanted to know about the players. Mr. Bowlen cared about players like nobody I’ve ever been around. He loved his players. And John Elway – he loved John Elway and wanted only the best for John Elway – which ultimately happened, winning Super Bowl 32."
This … One’s … For … John!
"That’s the way he was," Antonopulos continued. "He was compassionate about his players. He wanted to know about their families, wanted to know what’s going on with them. Not only injuries – that’s the way it started. But just everything.
"One thing led to another and I became involved in his health. He trusted me in helping him each day whether with what’s going on with him now or other things that occurred throughout his time with us.
"It’s just been a neat, neat relationship. Unique in the sense that he was like a brother. Sure he’s the owner of the Denver Broncos but love him and he’s my friend."
Antonopulos did become more than just the Broncos’ head trainer. He was often invited over to the Bowlens for dinner. Pat Bowlen has been fighting through Alzheimer’s, a disease his family and the Broncos announced prior to the team’s 2014 training camp.
"Professionals have been taking care of him for a number of years now," Antonopulos said. "It just breaks your heart knowing what a proud man he was. A man of integrity. … To see him now it just breaks your heart.
"I love to go see him. Just the respect I have for the man. And it’s just sad that it has to be that way, but you know what? He’s fighting things just like he always fought. One of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around."
It wasn’t a coincidence or luck that the Broncos had the staggering accomplishment of recording more Super Bowl appearances (6) than losing seasons (5) during Bowlen’s reign from when he bought the team in 1984 through the 2013 season.
Bowlen’s leadership was at the forefront of the Broncos’ consistent success.
"Mr. Bowlen as an owner was football first, business second," Antonopulos said. "Obviously, it’s tied together. There was no question he felt if the football part of it was successful, everything was going to work. He wanted to be first in everything. Everything in our organization. Every department head. He wanted them to be the best that they could possibly be."
Antonopulos’ presenter speech will be between 2 minutes and 3 minutes long. It will be recorded and shown on video as Bowlen is formally inducted into the Hall of Fame on Aug. 3 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
"To be able to honor him for who he is and that his family selected me to do it, it’s just been incredible," Antonopulos said. "I’m so proud and honored to be involved."
Greek was the right choice. Besides, Bowlen would have wanted Elway to concentrate all his efforts on making the Broncos a winning team again.