SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Peyton Manning would hang around the New Orleans Saints' practice facility as a teenager when father Archie was still connected to the organization, hoping to find a few veterans to toss around the football.
Vic Fangio, then a coach with the Saints, got his first glimpse of Manning at those informal workouts.
"You knew he had the talent and the right make up to be a special player," Fangio said Thursday. "To predict his Hall of Fame career would have been a stretch. But even then, I think he was 14 or 15 at the time, he wanted to throw the ball good."
Now Fangio, the 49ers' defensive coordinator, must devise a defensive plan to stop Denver quarterback he helped teach as a kid when San Francisco plays Denver on Sunday night.
"It's always a challenge to go against him," Fangio said. "He is very smart and does a good job before the snap of knowing what the defense is trying to do. He's probably the best at it."
Manning was a young NFL quarterback with the Indianapolis Colts when Fangio was coaching there and the two developed a close relationship.
"He would spend a lot of time at the facility," Fangio said. "He'd be watching film and asking me why the defense was doing what they were doing and what they wanted to accomplish. We always had football conversations."
Manning remembers those conversations.
"I enjoyed my four years with him at Indianapolis," Manning said on a conference call. "He was the first defensive coordinator I had as a player. I totally enjoyed talking ball with him and playing against his defense."
Fangio said the difficulty with defending Manning is that the five-time league MVP uses the play clock to study the defense at the line of scrimmage. He also understands how they might disguise the defense.
"He enjoys calling a run play when he thinks you're pass heavy," Fangio said. "They basically huddle at the line to give him time to see your formation. You try not to show it to him. Ultimately you have to play your package."
Manning has a chance to set another NFL record if he throws three touchdown passes against the 49ers on Sunday night. He enters the game with 506 career touchdown passes, two behind Brett Favre.
"Peyton is a special player. He's got all the records in the world," 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver said. "We have to do everything we can to prepare for him. There are certain things he knows. We just have to play our game, play good ball."
"You can't say enough about Peyton Manning and what he's accomplished over the years; so many accolades and such a great player," Johnson said. "You just want to come out there and compete. I feel like with the game plan that we have put in place that's what we have to do: go out and execute, compete and play hard."
NOTES: Fangio addressed the media Thursday wearing a San Francisco Giants cap autographed by Willie Mays. "It came off his head," Fangio proudly said. . Of all the injuries in the secondary this week, S Jimmie Ward (quadriceps) is the most severe. He was held out of practice for the second straight day. CB Tramaine Brock (toe), who has missed six weeks, was limited in practice, along with CB Chris Cook (quadriceps), CB Perrish Cox (quadriceps) and CB Chris Culliver (shoulder). . G Mike Iupati (concussion) and LB Patrick Willis (toe) were also held out of practice.