From left, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper introduces Broncos owner Pat Bowlen to Denver philanthropist Larry Mizel on Wednesday night.
From left, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper introduces Broncos owner Pat Bowlen to Denver philanthropist Larry Mizel on Wednesday night. (Steve Peterson, Special to The Denver Post)

All of the Broncos' Hall of Famers were there.

John Elway, Gary Zimmerman, Floyd Little, Shannon Sharpe. Colorado's governor showed up too. Denver's mayor. The men were dressed in sport coats and ties, the women in formal dresses.

In all, 2,200 of Colorado's most distinguished showed up at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver to honor Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who received the Mizel Institute Community Enrichment Award for his years of community service.

"He gave back while he tried to win," Broncos president Joe Ellis said. "He's always been about winning. He's very pleased with the way things are now with our organization. And he wants nothing more than to get back to the Super Bowl and win it, I can tell you that. But his legacy in the community as someone who gives back is something that's been consistent throughout his 30 years here."

Perhaps Bowlen's greatest contribution to the community, though, has been civic pride. The Broncos, by and large, have a team the Denver area is proud to call its own. Here are a few of the remarkable numbers Bowlen has accumulated since he bought the Broncos in March 1984: an NFL-most 177 home wins and 292 wins overall, a little more than 10 wins per season.

Bowlen's Broncos have had only five losing seasons in 29 years. Five.

"That starts at the top," said Elway, who quarterbacked the Broncos to their two Super Bowl titles and now is their football operations boss. "It's not easy to win in this league. Pat knows how to get the right people in the spots. And then give them the rope to do their job. He has a tremendous feel for people and he has tremendous instincts. I don't think people realize that about him."


Bowlen wasn't made available to the media Wednesday, but this was a night when he was recognized as much for the $25 million he has donated to Denver-area charities over the years.

"He's always been from the very beginning highly competitive. We all know that," said Tom Jackson, a former Broncos linebacker who gained greater fame as an NFL analyst for ESPN. "But I think what separates Pat is he's this owner with a great heart. And that, from my experience, is very rare."

Think about Bowlen's relationship with Elway over the years. Bowlen finally gets the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 1997 season, and what does he say? "This one's for John." They owned an Arena League franchise together. Bowlen employed Elway as a quarterback, and now as his front-office boss.

It's an owner-player relationship that's unprecedented.

"One of the great things is we kind of grew up in the league together," Elway said.

"When you've accumulated a lot of wealth, there's a reason why you got there," Sharpe said. "It's hard for you to take a back seat. Mr. Bowlen has always been like that, where it doesn't bother him that John is the face of this franchise. We know there's certain franchises in the National Football League where that wouldn't be possible. That just goes to show you, Mr. Bowlen, it's not about being seen."