DENVER - Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said he plans to catch Todd Helton's final home game as a Colorado Rockies player so he can pay homage to his buddy.
Manning and Helton first met at the University of Tennessee where they were teammates. When Manning arrived as a freshman in 1994, Helton was already a star in both football and baseball.
Manning said Helton took him under his wing and helped him adjust to college life.
"He was nice to me as an 18-year-old homesick freshman up there in Knoxville," Manning said. "Todd was a big star when I got there already, a Knoxville legend, and so he took time to be nice to me, and I appreciated that."
Although Manning unseated Helton as the Volunteers' QB, they've remained close, attending each other's games when they've had the chance.
When Manning was plotting his comeback from neck problems two years ago, there was a NFL lockout in place. Manning was prevented from seeing his team doctors or rehabbing at the Indianapolis Colts' facilities, so Helton arranged for Manning to use the Rockies' facilities to work out.
"A couple of years ago, during that lockout when I was in a strange and new situation, for him to get on that phone and call me and invite me out here to work out with the Rockies in private and use the Rockies' trainers, I'll always be indebted to him," Manning said. "Because I was in kind of a weird place, unknown, I had nobody to turn to medically because of the lockout."
Then Manning ended up signing a contract in the same town as his long-time friend.
When the Broncos lost in the playoffs to the Baltimore Ravens last season, Helton and Manning hit the road together to go hunting.
Manning said he admires much about Helton as a professional athlete -- consistency, toughness, dogged determination.
"I'm happy for him [Helton's retirement]," Manning said. "I feel like he's at peace with it. I hope he enjoys these last games, but there won't be another one like him here, I can promise you that."