DENVER — While the Broncos haven't played to their on-field standard in recent years, they've continued to excel in their efforts in the community.
Whether the organization is supporting the Broncos Boys & Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, Denver Rescue Mission, Food Bank of the Rockies or a number of other charitable initiatives, it continues to do so at a high level.
On Wednesday, President/CEO Joe Ellis received the Mizel Institute's 2021 Community Enrichment Award, one of Colorado's highest honors, in recognition for the work he and the organization have done to serve others.
"Well, I mean, I'm honored and flattered, first of all — and humbled — to receive the award," Ellis said. "If you look at the list of recipients over the years, there's a lot of terrific community leaders, senators, mayors and all sorts of people [Mizel Institue Chairman and CEO] Larry [Mizel] has honored. So, to be in that category, I think it's more about the Broncos than it is about me, and I made sure in talking to Larry that that would be the emphasis tonight, and it will be because I'm just really proud of the organization and all the work that we've done in the community over the years and the dedication of so many individuals in the company. I don't have time to name them all but they've put the company first and they've taken their jobs so seriously, and as I said, they put the company ahead of themselves and brought out the best in our organization."
Ellis joins late owner Pat Bowlen and President of Football Operations John Elway as members of the organization to win the award, and Ellis credited Bowlen for setting a standard in the community.
"Well, I joined in '83, the year before [Bowlen bought the team]," Ellis said. "[Former team owner] Edgar Kaiser had followed the legacy of the Phipps family and he was a brief owner of the team, but he established something and Pat took it to the next level year after year after year. There are commitments that he made to various organizations throughout the Front Range, most specifically committing to the Boys & Girls Club of America to have our own branch that we would fully fund out of the Montbello area. Pat took that upon himself with a really solid push from [former VP of Community Development] Cindy Kellogg and a great vision to show what this would do for our organization. I think it's been one of — if not the best — platforms that we've had. Certainly, one of the best."
Ellis also credited the Broncos' current community staff for helping the organization thrive in its community efforts. The team's community development department was recently recognized for the second consecutive year as a finalist for ESPN's Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year award.
"As I accept this award on behalf of our entire organization, it is important that I specifically highlight the hard work of several people, past and present," Ellis said during a portion of his acceptance speech. "Our community development team of [Executive Director of Community Development] Allie Engelken, [Senior Manager of Community Development], Liz Jeralds, [Community Development Coordinator] Katie Shuster, and [Director of Youth and High School Football] Bobby Mestas demonstrated a tireless commitment to the community. They were recently recognized for the second year in a row, with the Broncos being named one of four finalists across all of sports for ESPN's Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year. With an emphasis on COVID-19 relief and social justice work, I could not be more proud of what our organization — especially our players during this time — were able to accomplish this past season."
A series of Colorado dignitaries, though, were quick to credit Ellis for the personal impact he's had on the organization. Gov. Jared Polis, Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. John Hickenlooper and Denver mayor Michael Hancock were all in attendance and credited Ellis and the Broncos for their contributions to Colorado.
Elway, who has known Ellis for decades, also acknowledged his impact on the community.
"One thing that stayed the same is the Broncos' dedication to the community, and it starts at the top," Elway said. "Pat Bowlen really instilled the responsibility we have at the Broncos to give back, and Joe has carried that tradition with the help of a lot of great people in the Broncos organization. When the torch was passed, it began a challenging time with a lot of uncertainty, but Joe navigated it with leadership and integrity while giving us every resource to be successful. That's all we can ask for — someone to give us every chance to win, not only on the field, but in the community. Joe has done that and more."
Peyton Manning, who also spoke at the event, said he learned about Ellis' and the Broncos' connection with the community during his first visit to Denver. He's only learned more about that during his time in Colorado.
"In the last nine years of calling Denver home, it is easy to see the profound impact the Broncos have had on this community, and that starts with a lot of special people like John said," Manning said. "From Joe and the community relations department to the players, there's always been an emphasis on the responsibility we had to do more than just winning football games. Joe's done a tremendous job leading the Broncos with integrity, poise and humility. Most importantly, though, Joe has maintained a constant focus on giving back, on listening to the needs of the community and the players, and on putting others first during his 26 seasons with the Broncos."
On Wednesday, Ellis' contribution — as well as the organization's — was recognized at the highest level.