An Indianapolis Colt for life. Pencil in Jeff Saturday for that honor.
The 14-year veteran center in the NFL put an official stamp on a career Thursday that began in Baltimore in 1998 and ended in Green Bay in 2012. But it was those 13 seasons in between — from 1999 to 2011 in which he played for Indianapolis — when Saturday earned his greatest rewards.
A six-time Pro Bowl selection (2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012) and a two-time first-team All-Pro honoree (2005, 2007), the former North Carolina standout signed a one-day contract with the Colts. He then offered an emotional and heartfelt goodbye to old friends, former teammates and coaches and long-time team employees.
“Back in Blue! That’s a good thing to say. First I just want to thank everybody for coming out [for his goodbye press conference]. It does not go unnoticed. This [large of a turnout for a retirement announcement] does not happen for many players, especially many offensive linemen,” Saturday said Thursday afternoon.
“I’m truly grateful and humbled for this opportunity. When [team owner] Mr. [Jim] Irsay and I were talking about [retiring as a member of the franchise], it was something that meant a lot to me and meant a lot to him as well. I’m excited to retire as a Colt. I mean, this is my home. This is what we’ve supported for so many years. I was known, no matter what team I was playing for, as a Colt. So it’s good to put that horseshoe on and go out that way.”
Playing in Indianapolis during the team’s recent glory run, which included a pair of Super Bowl appearances (2006, 2009), has meant a lot to the Tucker, Ga., native and his family.
“First, I just want to say thank you to Mr. Irsay and the Colts organization. I tell you, you could not ask for a more classy organization. You couldn’t ask for a man and an owner who gave more to my wife and I for the endeavors that we do in the community. He was always there, no matter on the field or off the field. That’s rare in this business that he is as interactive as he is with his players, not only giving them his money and his time but helping us with pavilions and places to set things up. That was truly one of the things I admired most about him,” Saturday said.
“Next are the fans and the community. The fans in Indianapolis are the greatest ever. I’ve had my share of going other places, I’ve played on the road a number of times, and there is not a better group of people to support a football team than the Colts fans. Every time I walked out onto that field I knew it was a blessing to be out in front of you. You supported us. You challenged us when we didn’t show up the way we should have. I’m very appreciative of all the support you’ve given us. The community here, you’re my wife and I’s heart.”
Being back in Indiana has meant a lot to the Saturday family. Even though he played with the Packers last season, his wife and children remained in Indianapolis. It’s home.
“That’s the reason we’re back in Indianapolis. We love living here. We love being a part of it. The people in this community, in this area, support each other and give to each other and we’re grateful to be a part of it. Hopefully we’ve given back some of what you’ve given to us because I could not feel more supported,” Saturday said.
“Even coming back from Green Bay, how many people sent me letters and emails and petitions about rejoining the Colts and all kinds of things that are just way above and beyond what people expect and what my expectations have been. Again I really appreciate all of what you’ve given us.”
Thoughts on his coaches in Indianapolis: “I’ve been very fortunate in my NFL career to have some fantastic coaches. The three head coaches I was under here with [Jim] Mora, [Tony] Dungy and [Jim] Caldwell were fantastic, Dungy and Caldwell especially as I got older in my career. Not just great coaches but great mentors for my life. The faith example they set for me, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to be taught. I truly respect those men. Those are some fantastic men above and beyond football and I’m very fortunate to have them.
“The [offensive] coordinator I played for most of my career, Tom Moore, and Clyde Christensen in my last year. I mean, wow, to have the offenses we had for so many years, these guys know what they’re doing. They were a blast to play for and I really enjoyed it. My offensive line coaches being Howard Mudd and Pete Metzelaars and Ron Prince my last years, they made me who I am.”
His personal Colts Hall of Fame: “These are the guys that I played with for the most of my time. I start Marvin Harrison, Tarik Glenn, Peyton Manning, Hunter Smith, Reggie Wayne, Justin Snow, Ryan Diem, Dwight Freeney, Raheem Brock, Dallas Clark, Robert Mathis, Bob Sanders, Ryan Lilja, Jim Sorgi. I mean I think of every one of those guys and I could tell you stories about each and every one of them. Those men had a tremendous impact on my life.”
His children (Jeffrey, Savannah, Joshua): “This is my perspective in life. When I come home every day, this is what I get, win or lose, playing bad, playing good, whatever the press is saying about me, they keep it real with their dad. They keep me the man that I am and they keep me so happy to come home. Part of the reason why I’m really excited about retiring is being able to spend more time with them. I love them and they’re a blast to be around.”
His wife Karen: “[She is] probably is the most selfless person I’ve ever been around. I appreciate [her] letting me live my dream because [she] did. All the tickets, all the organizations, all the things that she does for our family as I’m preparing to play this game. She made my life what it is and she’s so fantastic in the community. She’s so fantastic to her friends and the people she loves. She’s the most loyal person I’ve ever met. It’s just been an incredible marriage. I’ve been around long enough to know they don’t come around that often, a wife this great. She’s my bride, we have so much fun. We’ve got a lot to look forward to and I’m excited about that. She is my true companion and it’s very special to have her in my life and to be able to go through this experience.”
Playing with Peyton Manning: “I like to tell people I rode his coattails for a long time. He is an incredible teammate. He’s probably, not probably, one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever been around. In fact, my experience in Green Bay gave me even more insight to how special he is as a player, and as a teammate. I really enjoyed my time with him. We used to call him ‘coach Manning’ and used to bust him up about how hard he worked. He showed up early. He left late. He led by example. He never expected you to give anything that he wasn’t going to give himself. The relationship between a center and a quarterback is special. We loved each other but we could fight each other as well. We could bump heads and there was always a mutual respect. It never got any further than that. It was always on the field. Off the field, we were friends.”
Favorite memory with the Colts: “The  AFC championship game trumps them all for me. Getting to recover a fumble for a touchdown, get to slay the Patriots, all those things, and the offensive line play in that game was probably the best we had played. We took that game over. So the five of us imposed our will on those guys. There are very few big games where you watch that happen and to be a part of that was super special. That’s the one for me, even above the Super Bowl. That’s the one for me.”
Thoughts on being away from Indianapolis for a year: “Going [to Green Bay], it made me realize what I had here for so long. I don’t think as a player when you’re in it, it really hits you or dons on you how great what we were involved with was. Like you said, being the No. 1 franchise over 10 years or whatever all those things were. Those are just kind of accolades you kind of move through when you’re playing because you are ready to move onto the next and keep going. To see it when you’re outside of it and see how other people viewed us and continue to view us is really special. I don’t think many players get that perspective.”