ENGLEWOOD, Colorado — Antoine Bethea faced Peyton Manning in practice when they were teammates for five seasons, so it was no surprise he intercepted the veteran during Wednesday's joint session between San Francisco and Denver.
Even so, Bethea's pick of Manning sparked a small celebration among his 49ers teammates. The interception was one of the few highlights in an otherwise low-key session between the teams. No on-field skirmishes marred the first of two days of practices between the teams ahead of their exhibition game on Saturday night.
"It goes back to the players on the field," 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula said. "It speaks volumes."
San Francisco players worked through the effects of altitude while going against the Broncos at their suburban Denver headquarters. The teams went through simultaneous drills on adjoining fields and rotated different units throughout.
Toward the end of the nearly two-hour practice, Manning lined up against the 49ers defense with Bethea playing safety. Manning tried to connect with receiver Cody Latimer near the sideline but Bethea jumped the route and got the interception.
"I think he probably thought we were in a different coverage," Bethea said. "In my head I'm thinking, 'OK, he might think we're in this coverage' and I was able to get underneath No. 1. Good play, good read."
He was cheered on by his teammates, even if it was just a practice.
"Last period of the day just trying to hurry up and get off the field," Bethea said. "We always say if you get a pick-6 you get off the field quick. I'm glad we were able to make that happen."
Bethea has institutional knowledge of Manning from when they were teammates in Indianapolis.
Bethea was drafted by the Colts in 2006 and was a rookie on the Colts team that won the Super Bowl. He went against Manning in practice for five seasons before a series of neck surgeries sidelined the quarterback in 2011.
"It helped me a lot, especially my first couple of years in the league. The different looks he gives a defense, just the knowledge of the game he has," Bethea said. "In games he made it so easy. Going up against one of the best quarterbacks in practice, when game time comes the game slows down."
Tomsula said the entire team benefited from going against Manning and the Broncos.
"Two teams working like crazy against each other, competing, and having fun and going about their business," he said. "I thought it was tremendous by both teams."
The teams will practice again Thursday in shorts. They play Saturday night at Sports Authority Field.
Notes: FB Bruce Miller missed practice because of personal reasons, and LB Desmond Bishop remained in San Francisco for hand surgery. S Craig Dahl (back) and LB Philip Wheeler (unspecified muscle strain) and TE Vance McDonald (ankle) were held out.