Manning gives a nod to Helton's honor

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Sometimes, in this sports-mad region, legends simply cross paths as they go about their business.

That was the case this week when Todd Helton came out to Friday morning's practice to see a former college teammate do some work in the Denver Broncos' offense -- a guy named Peyton Manning.

Helton, who just happens to be the answer to a football trivia question as the quarterback Manning replaced at the University of Tennessee to begin his All-American career for the Vols, was at practice to see Manning before the Broncos leave for Sunday's preseason game in San Francisco.

The Colorado Rockies, where Helton played his entire 17-year Major League career, are having a three-day celebration for Helton this weekend at their games Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Helton's No. 17 will be formally retired by the franchise on Sunday.

"It's a tremendous honor I think for any athlete but I think it means a great deal to a player that played his entire career here -- that was all in for the state of Colorado and the city of Denver during his entire career," Manning said. "Todd is the ultimate Colorado Rockie and so to have his number 17 retire it's obviously a no-brainer. I think it's special for the Rockies organization and all the Rockies fans that Todd was truly part of them for his entire career."

Manning cannot attend Sunday's ceremony given the Broncos face the 49ers at 2 p.m. MT in a preseason game and Manning is expected to play just over a quarter. So, Friday was a chance for the two to briefly catch up.

Helton had a couple of the current Rockies with him, pitcher LaTroy Hawkins and outfield Drew Stubbs, as the group stayed for most of the practice. The two have been friends since Manning arrived at Tennessee when Helton was already a two-sport athlete of some note.

Manning took over the starting job for the Vols in 1994 when Helton, already starting for an injured Jerry Colquitt, suffered a knee injury. Manning, a freshman, stepped behind center and never surrendered the job.

And beyond Manning, the Broncos player most happy to see Helton may have been tight end Jacob Tamme, a Kentucky native.

"Obviously he's been huge for this community. I told Peyton, actually Todd Helton was the first autograph I've ever bought," Tamme said. "I got it in a mall in Tennessee one time. First autograph I ever bought so I'm going to go tell him. He's obviously a good friend of Peyton's, I've heard a lot of great stories about him and I know he's been huge for this community and for the Rockies. One of the all-time favorites. It's cool to have him out here."