When all the congratulations to Peyton Manning came pouring in on Sunday after official word that Manning would announce his retirement, it was Jim Caldwell, Manning's quarterback coach and eventual head coach at the Colts for nine years, who had the simplest but most perfect statement about the 18-year NFL quarterback.
"There will never be another Peyton Manning."
No, there will not.
At some point it will hit every Broncos fan just how glorious it is to be one of two NFL teams to have had him on the roster and the one team to send him off into the sunset with a championship.
And in case there are still some long-time Broncos fans who begrudgingly accepted the former Colts quarterback into Dove Valley and never really wanted to admit how great he was, listen to what so many former teammates, coaches, opponents have to say about truly one of the Greatest Of All Time.
It's not just professional courtesy that so many want to thank the man they say changed the game or made them better players or showed them how to be team leaders, or taught them what work ethic actually is.
No, it's respect of the highest order.
Thanks Peyton "Pmoney, Papa John, Master P"!!! You showed us what greatness looks like! Thru all the adversity, you stayed consistent in your quest for greatness! The task was never too big, or too small for The Sheriff! I love you, and appreciate everything for have done for me personally and the organization! "You're the REAL MVP"!!! #sb50 champions #peytonmanning
Von Miller, quarterback terrorizer extraordinaire, calls Manning the perfect example of greatness.
"He represents the struggle to get there, too. There are some superstars who are great their entire career, but everyone can relate to Peyton because he's had his shares of ups and downs," Miller said, noting that Manning helped him see how a leader relates to players on both sides of the ball as well as the entire organization from the equipment guys to the trainers, coaches, etc. "Peyton Manning will continue to be Peyton Manning in life. He'll have a great game plan, call great audibles, have great secondary plans if needed and will continue to be successful."
Champ Bailey, who as a Bronco spent most of his career competing against Manning before being his teammate for two seasons, definitely sees Manning as the GOAT. It takes one to know one, after all
"Peyton was the best quarterback that I faced in my NFL career," Bailey said. "Beyond that, he was a great teammate during our two seasons together in Denver. He set the bar extremely high in terms of what it takes to be a great player in this league, and the NFL will miss him, for sure."
Aside from his ability to pick apart a defense in milliseconds, Manning's most noted quality must be his work ethic. And it is something his coaches and teammates from college through the NFL have pointed out.
No. 18 is just wired to work extremely hard.
"It was an honor to play with Peyton," said Jeff Saturday, Manning's longtime center at the Colts. "The way he prepared, the way he practiced and the way he worked from Monday to Saturday are the things I respect the most. Anything Peyton asked you to do, you knew he was doing that and more. He truly led by example."
Brandon Stokley, one of Manning's favorite wide receivers at both the Colts and the Broncos, believes Manning is definitely the best quarterback who has ever played.
"Nobody will ever do it the way he did it. He never came to work and didn't put in 100 percent," Stokley said. "Without a doubt, he revolutionized the position, and now, all QBs want to live up to the standard he set."
Wes Welker played with Manning for just two seasons, but the wide receiver said playing with No. 18 was "everything you thought it would be."
"The accuracy on his throws was incredible - you'd come out of your break and the ball would always be there. He made it so easy on you," Welker said. "The success he had wasn't by accident, though. It was a result of the hard work, preparation and accountability he demanded not only of himself but of all of his teammates."
Tony Dungy, Manning's head coach at the Colts from 2002 to 2008, noted what "a joy" it was to coach a guy who worked so hard and was so good as a result.
"He made my job as a coach so easy because when your best player is the hardest working, when your best player gives back to community, does things the right way and does all the things that you sell as a coach, it makes it so much easier," Dungy said.
Adam Gase, Manning's offensive coordinator in Denver for three years, had the same experience.
"I have such respect for the way Peyton worked, the way he prepared and his unmatched competitiveness," said the now head coach of the Miami Dolphins. "After all the records, the MVPs, the Pro Bowls, he still worked like it was his first day in the league."
Honor and a privilege to not only play along side of #PeytonManning, but to also lead the team with him. He is definitely a true leader in the locker room and on the field. I cannot say enough good things about him, but I do not need to, let his accolades speak for themselves. Peyton, you had one heck of a career and many more blessings are coming your way. #Congrats #BeBlessed
Bruce Arians recalled bringing Manning in for a pre-draft interview in 1998 and Manning had a notebook of questions, including about the Indiana tax code.
"I remember thinking, ‘Who interviewed who here?' He's an absolutely tireless worker on the fundamentals and also one of the best practical jokers in the world," said Arians, who coached Manning for three years in Indianapolis. "I called him the piranha. I could never get him enough information, whether it was about the opponent or our gameplan or anything else."
And that's something Manning had been doing since college.
"I am so proud of Peyton, not for only his incredible accomplishments, and his historic legacy, but how he represented the game, how he pushed himself and led his teammates," said former University of Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer.
One of Manning's many talents as a teammate was being able to relate as a friend, make demands like a coach, reprimand like a parent, joke like one of the guys but always lead by example. It's why so many wanted to play with him and so many feared playing against him - he was likeable but also had a killer competitive instinct.
"Being able to spend the beginning of my career with Peyton Manning at quarterback was an amazing experience," said Broncos' center Matt Paradis. "I learned a tremendous amount from him on the field, seeing his preparation and competitiveness each day. He also instilled in me the importance of conducting myself like a true professional off the field. Earning his trust and vote of confidence as a player with little experience meant a lot to me."
Brock Osweiler, who sat in Manning's shadow for three and a half seasons before getting to play a down of real NFL football, credits his predecessor for teaching him so much even while not starting.
"Peyton's attention to detail, how he went about his preparation and his desire to win football games is what I will remember most," Osweiler said. "Peyton displays how to be the ultimate pro every single day. I am a better football player today because of my time spent with him."
Bennie Fowler, a second year player who spent his first year on the practice squad, will forever be the receiver who caught Manning's last pass - a two-point conversion to ultimately seal the Super Bowl victory over the Panthers.
For a kid who grew up idolizing Manning and got to shake his hand before a game at just 10 years old, it was the a surreal experience for Fowler.
"Fast forward 14 years, and he's my teammate telling me in the huddle that he's going to throw his last pass to me. That's an incredible and surreal experience that I'll always be grateful for," Fowler said. "I hope that my career will always be influenced by the discipline, respect and preparation Peyton has shown to me and football."
Many players have made large imprints on the game, and the Broncos were lucky to have two of them at the quarterback position.
Being a GOAT himself, Broncos GM John Elway knew that when he signed the then four-time NFL MVP who had just come off four neck surgeries to a four-year contract was going to be worth the risk.
"Peyton was a player that guys wanted to play with," Elway said. "That made us better as a team, and I'm thrilled that we were able to win a championship in his final year. Peyton won a lot of awards and set a lot of records, but to me, what he helped our team accomplish during the last four years is what stands out the most. I'm very thankful Peyton chose to play for the Denver Broncos."
Manning's final year in the NFL was his worst statistically but still culminated in the ultimate prize - a Super Bowl win. Although Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak only worked with Manning for one year, he had teams who competed against Manning for years.
The coach noted that he already had deep respect for the future Hall-of-Famer, but the struggles of the past year and how Manning handled them only increased it.
"Being with him this season, going through what we went through and accomplishing what we accomplished - that was special," Kubiak said. "He and I battled together and along the way we talked about dreaming that it could end the way it ended. And I'll be damned, it did."
I'll be damned too. There will just never be another Peyton Manning.