DENVER — Seventeen years in, Rich Barrows still shakes his head.

Shakes his head, because he can’t believe the Broncos’ utter dedication to the Broncos Boys & Girls Club. Can’t believe that time Billy Thompson, the all-timer defensive back, helped a B&G kid earn a college scholarship. Can’t believe that time Rod Smith, the dazzling wide receiver, took in a B&G kid because Rod's house was closer to the kid’s school. Or that time — a few months ago — when Bradley Chubb and Courtland Sutton came through the Montbello facility with smiles for days.

“It still knocks me over after 17 years,” says Barrows, the Broncos Boys and Girls Club's first and only director. “Every. Single. Day. They knock me over with their commitment to what we're doing here.”

Same. So while we’re all going through this pandemic with varying levels of anger, fear, resentment, sadness and disbelief, it’s the right time to remember the good in the sports world.

And this? This isn't just good. This is fantastic: Wednesday, the Broncos franchise was named one of four finalists for ESPN’s Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year Award. Candidates span all sports, from hockey to soccer to baseball to basketball, and the Broncos are only the second NFL team to be named a finalist in the award’s six years. This year it’s the Broncos, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York City FC and Sacramento Kings. I haven’t seen the credentials of the others, but I’m telling you they must be a bunch of Mother Theresas and Gordon Moores if they beat out the Broncos for this one. And it starts with the B&G Club, the centerpiece of the team’s community vision and a second home for 1,500 Colorado youths every year.

It's closed due to the pandemic with plans to reopen June 15. Needs to happen. Let's go, government. These kids and their families need their community, especially when it's as impactful as the club in Montbello. 

It all starts with Allie Engelken, the Broncos' executive director of community development, and Liz Mannis, senior manager of community development. Starts with Bobby Mestas, director of youth football, and Katie Shuster, community development coordinator. Congrats to all of them. What an enormous honor this is.

“We really try not to do anything for recognition. It’s just about going through each day and each program and each event to make it the best it can possibly be,” Mannis says. “A big part of it is our players are really doing things for the right reason. They want to be there. That’s a big deal. And we have support from the entire organization to do what we do. Things like the Boys and Girls Club, to have such a long-standing program says a lot about this team as a whole.”

It started, initially, with Pat Bowlen funding the full operating budget of the Broncos Boys & Girls Club in 2003 and the team never wavering from the late owner’s commitment to that corner of Colorado. The Broncos made it so a kid’s membership costs $2 for the whole year, so the former Montbello Rec Center now has a $600,000 setting called the Darrent Williams Teen Center. Computer labs, televisions, even a driving simulator courtesy of UPS.

“Mr. Bowlen used to visit the club from time to time,” says Barrows. “He wanted to know what his guys were doing.”

On the day Bowlen passed, 70 kids from the club laid a rose at his statue outside Empower Field at Mile High. A couple of kids still wear the "Mr. B" pins they got at his private ceremony.

The money’s one thing, and nothing happens without the money. Last year the Broncos helped supply 275,000 meals through Food Bank of the Rockies, temporary shelter through Denver Rescue Mission, $250,000 to the American Cancer Society since 2016 and another $40,000 to five organizations in Colorado through the team’s Social Justice Fund. They took a couple of Boys and Girls Club kids to Super Bowls 48 and 50 and are so intimately involved with the program the team was able to choose the most-deserving kids. Broncos players last year volunteered 1,750 service hours at nearly 875 events. Denver Rescue Mission. Children’s Hospital Colorado. UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. School visits.

Is Drew Lock as good as Colorado believes he is? Is Sutton a future Ring of Famer? Is Chubb the next Von? Can’t say for sure. But I can say I’ve never seen a franchise commit to its own community like the Broncos do.

Congrats again to Allie, Liz, Bobby and Katie.

“It seems like every day they surprise me with a new idea, a new vision, a new project for the kids,” Barrows says. “Seventeen years (and) I’ve never had to ask for one single thing.”

And congrats to the Broncos. Win this ESPN award and plug the trophy next to those three Lombardis. This is winning in real life.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

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