DENVER —** Since his arrival in 1983, John Elway has embraced and supported Denver and Colorado just like the city and state supported him during his career as a legendary quarterback.
And in the process, the Broncos' Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager became a leader in the community.
For his philanthropic contributions to Denver and Colorado, Elway received the Mizel Institute's prestigious Community Enrichment Award at the institute's annual dinner Wednesday evening. More than 2,000 guests, including Annabel Bowlen and the Bowlen family, President and CEO Joe Ellis, Head Coach Vance Joseph were on hand for the special occasion at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum.
"For Colorado and how much Colorado has given me and the support it's given me over the 34 years that I've been here, to be able to have the platform with the Broncos and the opportunity that they've given me, to give something back has always been a big part of it," Elway said. "To be recognized for that part tonight, but also recognized with Larry and [with] the Mizel Institute has done over the years is great to be a part of."
The institute recognized Elway's notable community efforts going back to the beginning of his days as a Bronco. He founded the Elway Foundation, which combats child abuse, and he has also contributed to The Heroes Foundation, which provides support American heroes and their families. He has also provided support to the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and more.
More recently, Elway and his wife, Paige, have devoted time and funding to the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes and Boys & Girls Club of Metro Denver.
"I know he's been really active in the Boys & Girls Club here in Denver for many years and raised a tremendous amount of funds for them, and that's pretty important to him, to give back, especially to children," Paige said. "We've also been involved in the Barbara Davis Center for Children's Diabetes, which is another great cause, and they're doing tremendous work over there. But John, he just is always the type of person [that] no matter how busy he is, he always makes time to give back."
Family, friends and colleagues -- including Denver's mayor and the governor of Colorado -- surrounded surrounded John Elway for his Community Enrichment Award ceremony. (photos: Gabriel Christus)
Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen previously won the award in 2013, and his family was on hand at Wednesday's event to support Elway on this special night.
"To have Annabel and the family here is a treat and very humbling for me," Elway said. "The fact that for the last 34 years, they've given me the opportunity to be able to do what I do in football and the Broncos have given me that opportunity as well as the whole Bowlen family. I'm thrilled that they're here."
Through his years of working in the Denver community, Elway has become a local icon for more than just his time as a prolific football star. During that time, Elway grew from legendary quarterback to community pillar and inspiring entrepreneur.
"I think the city grew up, the town grew up, the region grew up as John Elway grew up," Ellis said. "And here we are today, one of the most desirable places in the country to live, and John Elway plays a big part in that. I think that may not sound appropriate given that football is just a game, but given John's stature and what he's meant to this team, what he's meant to this community, I don't think it's unfair to say he's had an enormous impact on how this city has grown up and what it's become."
Those close to Elway say he approaches community endeavors with the same mindset and approach that he has for anything, whether it's football or his business partnerships.
"How you do anything is how you do everything, and John Elway is that," former teammate Rod Smith said. "Everywhere he's been — in high school, as an executive in the NFL, one of the top execs in the NFL — he does it one way, and that's the right way."