DENVER --For 30 years, Broncos Owner and CEO Pat Bowlen has been giving to the Colorado community.
Wednesday night, the community gave back to him.
The Mizel Institute honored Bowlen with its 2013 Community Enrichment Award, recognizing his philanthropic leadership throughout the state of Colorado.
"Pat was a guy that really turned everything around and made winning the tradition with the Broncos," Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway said. "The work that he's done, the resources that he's given -- not only with the Broncos but that he's given to the whole Rocky Mountain region. He's a generous guy with a big heart. There couldn't be a better guy getting this award tonight."
Broncos coaches, players and staff were in attendance to support Bowlen at the annual gala dinner, held at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum.
Hall of Famers Floyd Little, Shannon Sharpe and Gary Zimmerman and Ring of Famers Tom Jackson and Tom Nalen were among the guests at the banquet, and all of them spoke highly of what Bowlen has meant to their lives and the lives of many throughout Colorado.
"What he's done for the city of Denver, the state of Colorado, is second-to-none," Sharpe said. "I know there's 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."
"We all came back for Pat," Little added. "They're celebrating and honoring him, and we wanted to be here."
The community enrichment award is given annually to an individual who makes outstanding contributions to Denver communities.
"I think it kind of is a summation of a terrific career," Broncos President Joe Ellis said. "Thirty years of just being a great owner for not only the team but for the city and the community. It's a special night for him, for sure."
Bowlen, who has owned the Broncos since 1984, was recognized for a number of initiatives, not the least of which is Denver Broncos Charities, which has donated more than $25 million to charitable organizations in Denver and surrounding areas since the inception of the fund in 1993. Bowlen is the chairman of the board.
Under Bowlen's leadership, the Broncos have partnered with and supported a variety of causes throughout the community, including Bonfils Blood Center, the NFL's Play 60 program, the Inner City Health Center, HealthONE's Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, Food Bank of the Rockies, the Denver Metropolitan chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Denver Rescue Mission, the American Heart Association, Boys & Girls Club of Metro Denver, Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, The United Way and Denver Public School Athletics.
"This city and state are better places to live because of all your efforts," Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper told Bowlen on stage during the banquet.
This year, the Broncos just completed their Be a Champion in the Community Week, which featured 10 service projects over a five-day span. Nearly 70 percent of the roster along with staff, cheerleaders and corporate partners participated.
"As a team, we made a commitment to doing a lot of work in the community," tight end Julius Thomas said while helping Food Bank of the Rockies distribute meals. "I think it says the kind of guys we have in our locker room that we're willing to come out here and give our time, and we actually appreciate doing this. This isn't something that we were dreading, we look forward to coming out and spending time in the community, just showing people how much we appreciate what they do for us throughout the year."
That charitable attitude within the organization starts with Bowlen.
"Pat was always doing community events and we were always encouraged to get involved in the community," Zimmerman said. "The longer I stayed here, the more I understood what he was about. ... I saw he was a true and genuine guy."
So it didn't surprise any of the other Broncos in attendance that more than more than 2,000 guests showed up to the banquet to honor Bowlen. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell even sent in a taped message for the banquet.
"I knew that this community would turn out like they are tonight," Jackson said. "It's not just because he owns the Denver Broncos, it's because of the person that he is."
Bowlen accepted the honor at the very end of the night, in front of the four Broncos Hall of Famers in attendance, to a standing ovation.
"Kindness, humility and generosity I think are three traits that sum up Pat Bowlen," Ellis said. "He's very deserving of this award tonight."