ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --All four of the Broncos' Hall-of-Fame players were present last week as the Mizel Institute named Broncos Owner and CEO Pat Bowlen its 2013 Community Enrichment Award recipient.
Three of the four played for the team under Bowlen's ownership with running back Floyd Little being the only one to precede Mr. Bowlen.
Below is what each of the players had to say about playing for Mr. Bowlen -- or in Little's case, what Mr. Bowlen means to him even though he never played for him.
Executive Vice President of Football Operations and Hall-of-Fame Quarterback John Elway:
On Mr. Bowlen as an owner when Elway was a player
"Winning starts at the top. With Pat being the competitor that he is—he's an athlete when he was younger with all the triathlons that he did, I think that carried over into his business life and how he ran the Denver Broncos. As a player, you can't play for a better owner, because his main goal was to win World Championships. As a player to have an owner that starts at the top to give you every opportunity to try to win a world championship, that's what it's all about."
On Mr. Bowlen as an owner now that Elway is an executive
"He lets you do your work. But he has high expectations, too, as he did as a player, the same thing for all of his employees. But he gives you your space to do what you can do and gives you the resources to be successful. He's the reason why the Broncos have been as successful as they have in his tenure here."
On getting to know Mr. Bowlen more as an executive
"I was fortunate when I was playing to have a relationship with him, so he's really pretty much the same guy in this position as he was as a player other than the fact that my responsibilities are a heck of a lot different. The pressure was still there as a player as well as working for him."
On his relationship with Mr. Bowlen
"I think one of the great things is we kind of grew up in the league together, even though he came in my second year. I was a young buck and he was just getting to know football, too, so we kind of grew within the NFL together. As a player, he gave us that opportunity, but I think it was fun to be able to grow up with him. That's why I've had the relationship with him that I've had over the years."
**Hall-of-Fame Running Back Floyd Little:
On what Mr. Bowlen means to him even though he didn't play for him
"What Pat has done is he's created the Ring of Fame. He's brought us all together. He honors and respects all players that played for the Broncos. So by him having an alumni association, by him having the Ring of Fame, where my name is prominently displayed—he's the one that retired my jersey. So when you talk about Pat Bowlen and what he's done, in fact, I was at practice with him today. He and I sat and talked for quite a while at practice today. He's done so much for this community and for pro football, he's got to be one of the top five franchises in the National Football League. He has done a remarkable job with the fan base and with the charities that he sponsors and having John Elway, an icon, be his spokesperson now. I tell you what, and having the chance to know John Fox and Jack Del Rio, hey, you don't find better coaches than these guys. I just think that Pat and John and they have Demaryius Thomas. Peyton came over and hugged me today. If they can get another three, four years out of him, he's going to be just what we need."
On Mr. Bowlen doing everything he can to help the team win
"He's been a players' owner. He's there, he works out with them, he greets them all, he meets the rookies—most owners don't do that. Most owners are far removed. But Pat's a hands-on guy, and he likes to mix it up. I like Pat Bowlen as a person. He's an athlete—he ran the triathlon, and he's done a lot of things. He bleeds the same way we do. That's what makes Pat Bowlen so special. It's because he is one of us as an athlete. He understands u
Hall-of-Fame Tight End Shannon Sharpe
On playing for Mr. Bowlen
"Ninety percent of what I've got is because of Mr. Bowlen. My kids get to go to school and will graduate college and not have to worry about student loans. I get to live a lifestyle that a lot of 44-, soon-to-be-45-year-olds dream of because of Mr. Bowlen. What he meant to this organization, what he meant to this city—I remember when I got elected to the Hall of Fame, he might have been the first or second person to call me. He told me congratulations. He told me how proud he was of me. And he asked me how many people did I think I was going to bring. I said, 'Mr. Bowlen, I'm going to be honest, only my closest, closest people: mother, sister.' I said I just can't afford to invite—he said, 'Don't worry about a thing. Invite as many people as you want, and I'll get them there.' What he's done for me and my family, what he's done for the city of Denver, the state of Colorado, is second-to-none. I know there are a lot of owners in the National Football League. Some have won more championships than Mr. Bowlen. It would be hard-pressed for me to believe that there's an owner in the National Football League that cares more about his city, about his state, about his players, than Mr. Bowlen."
On Mr. Bowlen doing everything he can to help the team win on the field
"And to stay out of the spotlight. He didn't want the spotlight. He didn't want, 'I think this guy should be playing, I want this guy to do more.' That wasn't what he was about. He wanted his players and his coaches to get all the credit. He stayed in the background. We knew we were winning because he gave the general manager, he gave the head coach the ability to go out and get certain players that we needed to be able to compete game-in and game-out, year-in and year-out to bring those Lombardi Trophies home. I'm glad I got an opportunity to start my career here. I'm even more honored and happy that I got an opportunity to finish it here. When I was a free agent the second time around, when I got released by Baltimore, there were a lot of teams that I spoke to, visited. But in my heart, I thought I knew if I couldn't come back and finish my career in Denver, I was going to walk away. Because this was home. I really never wanted to leave. But circumstances beyond my control and beyond the team's control, I had to go somewhere else for two years. But I needed to come back. I wanted to come back. This was my home. This was where it all started. They gave me an opportunity. They gave a skinny kid from Savannah State an opportunity to show that he could play in the National Football League. They showed, 'We believe in you.' And it was all because of Mr. Bowlen. When I came back, he got on the phone and he called me. He said, 'I want you back. You're not going anywhere else.' And it was never about the money. I just wanted to come back home and play those last couple years for the fans in Denver and for, I think, the greatest owner in the National Football League."
Hall-of-Fame Tackle Gary Zimmerman
On playing for Mr. Bowlen
"Well, it kind of gave me a second lease on life. At Minnesota, you were just a number. Then when I came here, I saw the genuine concern that Pat had for all his players. He treated everybody as family. It just renewed my hope in the owners of this league. You honestly feel that Pat would do anything he could for any of his players. I think he feels that strongly about everybody. When I first realized this was the turkey scam—we always had the turkey scam in Minnesota. In Denver, they had the sign-up sheet and I thought it was all a scam; then I come into the locker room and there's Pat sticking turkeys in our locker. I'm like, 'What's going on here?' I thought it was a whole joke. That was the first time I understood what Pat really was. He'd always come down into the locker room and hang out with the guys. I'd never met an owner in Minnesota in seven years. So for Pat to come down and talk to you and be able to talk to him openly as a man, it was just incredible. As everybody knows, the Bowlens are one of the most generous families in the country, I think. I go back to the Hall of Fame and talk about the owners. The Broncos are by far one of the most favorite teams to play for as a player. I think the Patriots are up there, but I think hopefully someday Pat will be in the Hall of Fame, because he deserves that."
On Mr. Bowlen doing everything he can to help the team win
"I think that's still going on now. Pat will do whatever it takes to win. John's coming out and doing that, too. He did everything. He wants to win. It's not a dollars and cents to him; he'll do whatever it takes to win. I think that's been evident in his record with the Broncos over the years."