Centers to the stars

Koppen, who's 34, said he's retiring after the season. He hates to go out this way, but his mind is set. 

"Before I signed the contract this year to come back to Denver, my wife and I talked about it, that this would probably be my last run," he said. "I'm just going to go away and disappear. Well, not disappear, but just go away. I've had a wonderful 11 years with two great programs, with a lot of great football players. And just as important, we've won a lot of football games."

TREY TEAGUE, former NFL lineman, Manning's center at the University of Tennessee

Teague was driving through the Mississippi Delta on Monday, headed for a trip to hunt deer and ducks. On a few occasions, Manning would take this trip with him. They were roommates in college, which means Teague has a distinct memory of waking up in the middle of the night and finding Manning asleep, clutching the remote control, snow on the TV. Manning always used to doze off watching cutups on VHS tapes.

Teague, who played in the NFL for nine years, usually says no to interviews these days if the caller is asking about Manning. He's always believed that locker-room stories were supposed to stay in the locker room, stored away until old friends could meet again and laugh about them on trips or reunions. But so much of who he is today is because of Manning, and he wants to talk about that.

There are many stories that are funny now, and would make just about anyone else besides Manning come off as uncool. But let's just say that any roommate of Manning's was going to have to be focused. If Teague was up late on a Thursday night during football season, Manning would ask him why. If he'd try to bring his girlfriend over on a Friday night -- that didn't fly with Manning.

"It was just a different level of accountability that you wouldn't normally expect from a 19- or 20-year-old," Teague said. "I probably was more successful after college and may or may not have even made it in the NFL if I wasn't witnessing that kind of work ethic.

"Peyton wasn't demanding in terms of, 'You need to do this,' or 'You need to do that.' He just set the bar really high. You just felt like you didn't have a lot of choice but to try to get toward that level. I got a personal foul penalty on the first play of the year my senior year, I think. I don't know if I was more concerned about going to the huddle to hear what Peyton had to say or going to the sideline and hearing what coach [Phillip] Fulmer had to say."

Teague switched to center midway through his junior year at Tennessee. Everybody on that team was in the spotlight because it was Manning's team. When Teague switched positions, the local media wanted to know how they'd prepare to work together. Someone, either he or Manning -- he can't remember -- joked that they practiced their snaps at home while watching "Seinfeld." Because it was uber-prepared Manning, the media thought it was true.

Teague said that in his first game at center, Manning got hit and sprained his MCL. At halftime, he told Teague they'd have to play in the shotgun formation the rest of the way. Teague had never done a shotgun snap. Manning asked if he was good with it. "Am I good with that?" Teague asked incredulously. Manning told him not to snap it over his head.

"When I played center after that going forward," Teague said, "I figured that was a good philosophy."

DAMIEN WOODY, Brady's center in New England, 2001-03

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