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'Playing football gives you a platform': Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning honored with 2024 Mizel Institute Community Enrichment Award

DENVER — Peyton Manning's on-field legacy is incomparable.

The former first-overall pick holds the NFL single-season passing touchdown and passing yardage records, became the first quarterback to lead two different franchises to Super Bowl titles and has won the most MVP awards in NFL history.

He was elected as a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2021, and he entered the Broncos' Ring of Fame in the same year.

And yet, Wednesday was about Manning's equally impressive efforts away from the white lines.

Manning was honored with the Mizel Institute's Community Enrichment Award, which is presented annually to those who have made outstanding contributions to the community and worked to enhance to lives of others. The former quarterback has supported numerous charities through his PeyBack Foundation, and he's placed an emphasis on youth education, leadership and wellness. In recent years, Manning has also honored his late teammate Demaryius Thomas by funding the "18 to 88" scholarship in Denver, as well as a scholarship in Thomas' name at Georgia Tech.

"Certainly, playing football gives you a platform to create awareness and raise funds," Manning said. "I don't think players are doing community service to win an award like tonight or to win the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award, but I think when you are recognized for it, it does make you want to keep doing it. I think if it creates awareness and more players and more people are doing it, that's a good thing. The community is the beneficiary of that. There's more NFL players doing more good things that unfortunately we don't hear about as much, but they are.

"… Community service is important, and that's sort of engrained into you when you're playing in the NFL. And then when you stop playing, you have even more time to do it. I've just really enjoyed being a part of this community for the last 12 years, and I think we're here for the long haul."

Manning's former teammates Emmanuel Sanders, Joel Dreessen and Bennie Fowler joined a significant Broncos contingent led by President Damani Leech to support Manning, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Mike Johnston also spoke in support of Manning's contributions.

"Peyton, obviously, is synonymous with success," Leech said. "[He's] a great representative, a great Bronco. … As a football fan, it's hard not to know the impact he can make on and off the field."

Manning joins Joe Ellis, John Elway and the late Pat Bowlen among Broncos who have previously won the award.

"I'm honored to be added to the list," Manning said. "I'm not sure I'm completely worthy, but community service is something that's always been important to me. My dad was always very involved in New Orleans and Mississippi, where he's from. When I played in Indianapolis, my head coach Tony Dungy always encouraged players to get involved in the community. So I had kind of my leaders and mentors paving the way, showing me the example of giving back. [I] just really have enjoyed my 12 years in Denver, Colorado. The community really embraced me and our family when we got here in 2012, and so it's been a very easy return the favor to give back to the community. [I'm] really proud to be here tonight."

Polis, specifically, joined Larry A. Mizel to surprise Manning by declaring May 22, 2024 as "Peyton Manning Day" in recognition of his efforts. Manning was also recognized in a video that featured Broncos Head Coach Sean Payton, Broncos Owner Condoleezza Rice, Elway, Ring of Fame head coach Mike Shanahan, Colorado Buffaloes head football coach Deion Sanders, legendary broadcaster Jim Nantz and several others.

Sanders and Dreessen also both spoke about Manning's impact during Wednesday's banquet, and the two expressed their gratitude to have played with the two-time Super Bowl champion.

"He's deserving more than anyone," Sanders said. "Just the impact that he's had on my life, the impact he had on the Denver community — he's just an amazing guy. He deserves everything. With the PeyBack Foundation that he has, what he does for Demaryius in terms of the '18 to 88' scholarship that he does for [Colorado] and Georgia Tech, he deserves it."

Added Dreessen: "He's the definition of humility. Here's a guy who's league MVP [and a] Super Bowl champ. He's on your TV every single channel, right? But he still is authentic and genuine and looks out for all of us former teammates. [It's a] really cool deal, and I'm excited to be here with him tonight."

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