Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford's children share how much their father meant to them

Updated August 20, 2015 10:35 AM
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He may have been a legendary New York Giants player and an Emmy-winning sports broadcaster, but to his kids, Frank Gifford was simply dad.

Cody and Cassidy Gifford, the youngest of his five children, opened up to PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue about the love and the loss they are feeling alongside their Kathie Lee Gifford following their dad’s sudden death on August 9.

“For 22 years I was blessed with an incredible man to not just call my father, but also my friend,” Cassidy, 22, tells PEOPLE. “So though I selfishly may want 22 more, my gratitude far outweighs my sadness.”

Frank’s passing came as a complete shock to the family. Just this past June, the budding actress spoke to PEOPLE about her ever lively father. “My dad is almost 85, the sharpest thing on the planet,” she said at the time. “He actually can do more on the computer than my mom can. He’s super savvy.”

And she enjoyed a front row seat to her parents’ loving antics. “When I come home, there’s not a second that I don’t hear the two of them cracking up downstairs,” she told PEOPLE in June. “So much sometimes that I’m asleep, and I have to ask them to be quiet because they’re laughing their butts off.”

To Cody, 25, who followed in his father’s footsteps, playing football for the University of Southern California, Frank was the ideal role model. “The great [New York Giants co-owner] Wellington Mara once called dad ‘the son any father would love to have and the father any son would be proud to have,’ ” Cody tells PEOPLE. “He was right. God blessed me beyond words.”

Says Cassidy, “I will always be able to call that legend not only my dad, but the kindest, most generous human being I have ever had the privilege of knowing.”

For more on how the Gifford family is coping with their loss, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday