INDIANAPOLIS — Stockpiling compelling film footage aimed to best capsulize the career of an NFL center is an arduous process at best.
Nevertheless, highlights of the 13 seasons Jeff Saturday spent with the Indianapolis Colts were playing on two large screens inside a room at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center early Thursday afternoon.
Lowering himself to snap the football in a game at Tennessee, Saturday’s meaty hands refuse to touch the pigskin until he’s finished communicating to his fellow linemen. First he shouts instruction while pointing right and then, seconds later, repeats this to the left side.
Other glimpses into his gridiron past include the 6-foot-2, 295-pound center paving a massive running lane for former teammate Joseph Addai. Another shows him leaving the field after a home victory, Saturday’s helmet raised with one hand as he acknowledges ecstatic Colts fans with the other.
There were others, the common denominator being that not a single clip fazed Saturday, who with a simple signature and that of team owner Jim Irsay officially retired as an Indianapolis Colt.
Only when he turned around to face his wife, Karen, did Saturday, attired in black suit and a Colts blue tie, begin coming unraveled.
“She’s probably the most selfless person I’ve ever been around,” said Saturday, his voice beginning to break. “I appreciate you letting me live my dream.”
At this point, Saturday, his blue eyes filled with tears, had to return his focus on the audience in front of him in order to maintain composure.
“She made my life what it is. She’s the most loyal person I’ve ever met. It’s just been an incredible marriage.”
The same can be said about the one involving Saturday and the Colts.
From 1999-2011 Saturday proved to be the perfect blend of excellence and consistency. For 12 of those 13 seasons, he would snap the football, Peyton Manning would retrieve it, and Indianapolis more often than not flourished.
Saturday spent the 2012 season as a member of the Green Bay Packers but remained adamant about taking the steps needed to retire as a Colt.
“Jeff has meant so much to this franchise. Here was a man who came into the league, no one thought he was going to do much, and he literally took this town over,” Irsay said. “It’s just incredible how Jeff has made an impact in this league and with this franchise. When I think about Jeff I think about one of the greatest success stories in the NFL.”
Born and raised in Georgia, Saturday excelled at the University of North Carolina under former Tar Heels (and current University of Texas) coach Mack Brown. Twice Saturday was named All-Atlantic Coast Conference, yet in April 1998 he came up empty on what might have been the most memorable day of his young life, as no NFL franchise drafted him.
Thought to be undersized to earn a living in the trenches at football’s highest level, Saturday was nonetheless signed with Baltimore before being waived six weeks later.
Convinced his last organized football game would be his finale with the Tar Heels, Saturday went to work in an electrical supply store in Raleigh, N.C. Word of mouth led former Colts president Bill Polian to Saturday, who on Jan. 7, 1999, was signed as a free-agent backup guard.
In fact, Saturday’s first NFL start was at left guard; he started all 16 games at center in 2000. He would go on to start 188 of 197 games in Indianapolis before becoming a free agent after the 2011 season.
Saturday’s 13-year run with the Colts ties him for third-most in franchise history. His 197 games played places him tied for fourth all-time in the organization. He’s been to six Pro Bowls, five with the Colts, and anchored the offensive line during Indianapolis’s Super Bowl XLI championship season in 2006.
Off the football field, Saturday and his wife are involved in numerous charitable causes in and around Indianapolis. His influence also was felt as a representative of the NFL Players Association during the collective bargaining agreement negotiations in 2011.
Saturday’s gratitude at Thursday’s news conference extended to former coaches, teammates, trainers and members of the Colts equipment staff.
Saturday broke into the league when Jim Mora was leading the Colts. However, his more fruitful seasons were spent under the guidance of Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell.
“I was here with (Jim) Mora, (Tony) Dungy and (Jim) Caldwell, who 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,” Saturday said. “Those are some fantastic men above and beyond football.”
The Colts Ring of Honor inside Lucas Oil Stadium awaits its next name. It won’t have to look far.
Irsay hinted that Saturday, whose family is now solidly rooted in the community, will continue to represent the Colts in the future at various functions. Saturday in time may even decide to get into coaching or pursue some sort of NFL administrative position.
The possibilities for the future are endless, the perfect juxtaposition for a playing career now complete. Saturday played for Irsay and played alongside men like Manning, Marvin Harrison, Dwight Freeney and so on.
He was a Colt again Thursday. And one forever.
“I’m a Colt, and I love representing this organization. It’s the best in the business, and it will continue,” Saturday said. “This train is just getting rolling.”
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