August 13, 2015 5:51 AM EDT

Frank Gifford was the most popular New York Giant that ever played–and when you’re big in New York, you’re huge. But he also had a humility and self-deprecating sense of humor that were rare for such an A-lister. He told me a story in his later years of going to the 21 Club and not getting his normal table. He joked, “You know, I remember the days when I used to be me.” He could laugh about himself like that.

As a broadcaster, Frank worked the most popular program in the history of sports for 27 years. No broadcast crew was ever more beloved than Frank, Howard Cosell and Don Meredith were on Monday Night Football in the 1970s.

Frank came from a hardscrabble background, and he played in an era in the NFL when players didn’t make much money. A lot of Frank’s old teammates weren’t as successful as he was, and I know that over the years, he helped them financially and in any other way he could. I hate to fall back on an old-fashioned word, but in every aspect of the definition, Frank Gifford was a gentleman.

Dierdorf is a Pro Football Hall of Famer and award-winning sportscaster

This appears in the August 24, 2015 issue of TIME.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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