For Rod Smith and so many other Broncos players, being friends with Steve "Greek" Antonopulos was something of a paradox.
"Greek is that guy [where] you like to see him but you don't want to see too much of him," Smith says with a laugh.
But as games and seasons accumulated for him — and for so many other legends who have worn a Broncos uniform — Smith found himself increasingly in Antonopulos' company.
"Unfortunately and fortunately, I got to spend some time with him, especially at the end of my career with the hip injury and stuff like that," Smith says. "So I got probably more time with him than I wanted to, but he always made it worth it."
Some players, like Shannon Sharpe, found that even when their injuries healed, they'd still stick around the training room to hang out with Antonopulos, who announced his retirement earlier this morning.
"I mean, a lot of times I didn't really need maintenance, but I wasn't necessarily getting treatment per se for an injury," Sharpe says. "A lot of times I was just in there just talking, just hanging out. He was asking me how I was doing, how I was feeling, life outside of football, how was the family. That was a lot of it. Obviously everybody knows I had my fair share of injuries, but a lot of times late in the afternoons I didn't really have an injury to treat. I was just hanging out just talking.
"... There were a lot of days after practice in which he and I was the only ones there. I would still be there working out or getting treatment or getting in the hot tub. Sometimes ... I didn't have anything else to do. I would just hang around with Greek until he got off work."
That camaraderie was part of what made Antonopulos such an effective and successful member of the Broncos leading their training staff for decades. Beyond his expertise, Antonopulos was a compassionate, caring professional who knew how to be a motivator and confidant.
"They ask about your family and they genuinely care, and they know people in your family's names, and that's how Greek was," Steve Atwater says. "He knew everybody in my family. Even now he'll ask about people in my family. And that's an amazing trait. I know just for me personally — I think this goes for a lot of guys — that when you have coaches and you have trainers who care about you, man, you give that back to them. You'll do anything for them."
Atwater's longtime compatriot in the defensive backfield, Dennis Smith, agrees.
"He knew just the things to say to you," Smith says. "And he didn't force you or try to force you to go on the field and play if you were hurt. He just knew the right things to say and the right things to do."
Even veterans who arrived in Denver late in their career were able to build trust with Antonopulos, though they hadn't been able to do that over years of working together like Atwater and Sharpe had. This process was more crucial for some of the Broncos' bigger free-agent signings, like Peyton Manning and John Lynch, who were coming off of serious neck surgeries.
"Thank you for all the help and support that you gave me during my time with the Broncos," Manning says in a video message, "especially that first year dealing with all that injury and rehab and just your positive encouragement and work ethic and detailed plan really made such a big difference for me, getting me back out there on the field and playing well in my first year as a Bronco."
The same held true for Lynch, who also spent four seasons in Denver to cap a Hall of Fame career.
"What did Greek mean to my career? He meant so much," Lynch says. "I came to Denver after 11 years in Tampa, also coming off a neck surgery. I'd been battling stingers the year before and every time I'd be hit, my arms would lighten up. So when you have a neck surgery, there's a lot that comes with just the confidence of just getting back to football. Greek was so good. He'd been around for so long and seen so much, he really, I always said that being a great trainer is half being an expert at what you do but then also being a tremendous psychologist. And it was the first time I had a little apprehension going and actually hitting someone. And Greek was so good through that process. I went on to have four great years in Denver, and Greek was such a great part of that. I'll forever be grateful to him for that."