By Sam Youngman
DENVER (Reuters) - John Elway won Super Bowls. Now he's trying to help Mitt Romney win the White House.
Romney arrived in Denver Monday night, two days before his first debate against President Barack Obama, holding a rally and picking up the endorsement of Elway, the legendary Denver Broncos football player and two-time Super Bowl champion.
Elway briefly addressed the raucous crowd of more than 5,000 Romney supporters, introducing the Republican candidate and firing up the crowd with a reference to Sunday's Broncos win over the Oakland Raiders.
"I must say, today has been a very good day, not only because of what happened yesterday, but because I get the opportunity to introduce you to the next president of the United States, Governor Mitt Romney."
Romney addressed the upcoming debates, noting that "there's a lot of interest surrounding the debates, and people want to know who's going to win."
"In my view it's not so much winning or losing or even the people themselves - the president and myself - it's about something bigger than that," Romney said. "These debates are an opportunity for each of us to describe the pathway forward for America that we could choose."
Elway, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and now a Broncos executive vice president, contributed the maximum permissible amount of money to Romney this year. Elway had also endorsed Republican candidate John McCain in the 2008 White House race - in a losing cause.
While polls in recent days and weeks have shown Romney losing support in key states, Colorado has been one of the few bright spots where he sees an opportunity to take a state Obama won in 2008.
The rally represented the first time Romney has appeared before voters since last Friday, having focused on preparing for the debate.
Kevin Madden, a senior Romney adviser, told reporters on the flight to Denver that much of the debate prep in Boston, where the campaign is based, has focused on getting the candidate used to debating one person instead of several, as he did during the Republican primary season.
Romney participated in dozens of debates during the primaries of the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. But because the Republican has never done a one-on-one presidential debate, Madden said the debate format has been central to the preparations.
"There's only one person on stage that's done three nationally televised, head-to-head debates in a general election format," Madden said. "That's President Obama. Governor Romney hasn't. So you know you try to get used to that."
While analysts say the debate has become increasingly critical for Romney's chances of winning on Election Day, Madden downplayed expectations for how Romney will perform. When asked about Chris Christie's prediction that Romney will win Wednesday night, Madden said he appreciated the New Jersey governor's optimism.
"I don't think any one event is going to dramatically alter the race," Madden said of the first debate. "I think that we'll continue to do what we can to make this race, keep it close and be in a position to win on election day."
(Editing by Philip Barbara)