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It's the 'little things' Peyton Manning will miss most about football

The future Hall-of-Famer will "absolutely" miss the game - but it will be the things that are part of the process more than the outcome that Manning will miss more than anything.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The measure of a quarterback is in his wins and losses, particularly in the right wins - the ones that lead to championships.

The measure of a Hall-of-Fame quarterback is elusive but not unknown, rewarding excellence at the position over an extended career.

But the measure of a legendary football player is in the little things.

It seems counterintuitive since legendary means "remarkable, celebrated, storied, prominent..."

But such status does not happen without incredible patience and diligent work. It requires attention to mundane details, taking the long view, working extremely hard to improve not just yourself but those around you. It comes by insisting the good of the team is the greater good.

Combined with excellence, these pave the path to legendary.

So it is all too fitting that when Peyton Manning announced his retirement Monday from the NFL after 18 years as a quarterback for two different championship teams, he told us it was the "little things" he would miss most.

After all, they're the big things:

"I'm going to miss a steak dinner at St. Elmo's in Indianapolis after a win."

"My battles with players named John Lynch, Ray Lewis, Zach Thomas, Tedy Bruschi, London Fletcher, Brian Dawkins, Junior Seau, Brian Urlacher, Troy Polamalu, Rodney Harrison, Charles Woodson and Ed Reed."

"I'll miss figuring out blitzes with Jeff Saturday, Reggie Wayne sitting on top of the bench next to me, and perfecting a fake handoff to Edgerrin James."

"I'll miss Demaryius Thomas telling me that he loved me and thanking me for coming to Denver after every touchdown I threw to him."

"I'll miss putting in a play with Tom Moore and Adam Gase that ends in a touchdown on Sunday."

"On Fridays I'll miss picking out the game balls with my equipment guys. Talking football with the broadcast crews before the game and afterwards I'll miss recapping the game with my dad. And checking to see if the Giants won and calling Eli as we're both on our team buses."

"I'll miss that handshake with Tom Brady, and I'll miss the plane rides after a big win with 53 teammates standing in the aisles laughing and celebrating during the whole flight."

"I'll miss playing in front of so many great fans both at home and on the road. I'll even miss the Patriots fans in Foxborough, and they should miss me because they sure did get a lot of wins off of me."

Those "little things" speak to exactly who Manning is and what separates him from so many others.

For PFM, the joy is in the work, the struggle. Setbacks are motivators not indictments. Fighting toward a team win is more satisfying than achieving an individual record, though admiration for the many players who came before him is a given.

Hundreds of NFL players earn the "great player" moniker. The lucky ones also reach the pinnacle of success with a great team. Some get to be called Greatest Of All Time. A select few will also be legendary.

Manning is one of them.

"Pundits will speculate that my effort and drive over the past 18 years were about mastery and working to master every aspect of the NFL game. Well, don't believe them," Manning said. "Because every moment, every drop of sweat, every bleary-eyed night of preparation, every note I took and every frame of film I watched was about one thing, reverence for this game.

"When I look back on my NFL career, I'll know without a doubt that I gave everything I had to help my teams walk away with a win. There were other players who were more talented, but there was no one could out-prepare me and because of that I have no regrets."

Manning started his news conference talking about his first year in the NFL - a year he took quite a beating on the field as well as in the stats columns.

"We ended my rookie season 3-13 and in the process I set the NFL rookie record for interceptions, a record that I still hold today," the quarterback joked. "Every year I pull for a rookie quarterback to break that record."

One loss in particular that season stood out to Manning - the Colts-Ravens game in which an angry Baltimore fan base made sure to give the Colts' rookie quarterback a taste of their loathing for his Colts that had abandoned Baltimore 15 years prior. But the game stands out to Manning because he got to shake hands with the former Baltimore Colts legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas.

I revere football. I love the game. So you don't have to wonder if I'll miss it. Absolutely. Absolutely I will. -Peyton Manning

"He told me, ‘Peyton, you stay at it. I'm pulling for you.' Well, I have stayed at it. I've stayed at it for 18 years and I hope that old No. 19 is up there with his flat top and maybe his black high tops on. I hope he knows that I have stayed at it and maybe he's even a little proud of me."

A two-time Super Bowl champion, a five-time NFL MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, a 14-time Pro Bowler plus NFL's 2012 Comeback Player of the Year...and he's wondering if another great quarterback might be a little proud of him?

It's so Manning.

Proud can't begin to explain what Unitas and every true fan of the game of football would no doubt be of the man we've come to call Peyton F-ing Manning.

In fact, the word that fits best for how football fans, players and coaches feel about No. 18 is one Manning used so eloquently himself on Monday - revere.

"I revere football. I love the game. So you don't have to wonder if I'll miss it. Absolutely. Absolutely I will."

We revere you, Peyton. We love your game. So don't wonder if we'll miss you. Absolutely. Absolutely we will.