Jeff Saturday induction is at ideal time

Retired center thought he would get fired as rookie after loss to Jets. Instead, he will honored during another Jets game.

Jeff Saturday’s induction into the Indianapolis Colts’ Ring of Honor has an ironic twist.

The retired center will see his name and jersey number 63 unveiled at Lucas Oil Stadium during the Colts’ Sept. 21 game against the New York Jets. It was against the same opponent, as a rookie in 1999, that Saturday thought he had played his way out of the league.

He blamed himself for a loss to the Jets because of a botched snap. The undrafted rookie feared the worst when Colts general manager Bill Polian approach in the locker room.

“We were on the brink of are we going to make the playoffs?” Saturday recalled in a Wednesday conference call with Indianapolis media. “I think we had two or three games left, and (Polian) walked in the locker room. I’m broken up. I’m choked up. I’m struggling and guys are trying to encourage me and here comes my boss. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I’m getting fired. I’m an undrafted scrub, and here it goes.’

“He walks up and grabs me by the head and gets his face real close to me and he’s like, ‘Don’t let this moment define you. We’ve got tomorrow. We’re going to be better.’ He said, ‘The things that you have already done this season have proven the type of player that you’re going to be. Come back tomorrow with your head up.’ It just meant so much because at that moment, he could have ripped me, he could have cussed me out, he could have said a lot of things and all would have been par for the course in football a lot of times. But that wasn’t who he was.”

Nor was Saturday defined by that humbling moment. He made the Pro Bowl six times in his 14-season, 211-game career, 13 of those years with the Colts. Saturday and quarterback Peyton Manning set an NFL record for most starts by a quarterback-center combo with 170. And he was one of the most admired players for his approachable, classy demeanor.

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It’s no surprise that Saturday, who retired after 2012, will be the 12th member of the Ring of Honor, and just the second offensive lineman, the first offensive tackle Chris Hinton (2001).

It’s an honor the humble Saturday never expected, especially when he was working for an electrical supplies company in Raleigh, N.C., before getting a Colts workout.

“No, I did not see it,” he said. “I said it (Tuesday) and I honestly believe, my career has been much better than I deserved. When we were playing, I suited up beside so many great players through so many years, so many good coaches. For all of that to come together and for our team itself to build the type of legacy it did there in Indianapolis, I am blessed and more than fortunate.

“It was a great time. I loved every bit of it. Showing up, practice and meetings, you name it. I had so much fun and really enjoyed the process and all the victories. So no, I never saw or never thought about, is my name going to be in this stadium? As a center, you never think things like that. You kind of look around, and it’s usually the skill guys who get put up there. You don’t ever really think about it that way. When the Colts called me, I was more than humbled just being a lineman and being able to be a part of so many great football teams.”

Saturday, 40, lost more than 50 pounds from his 295-pound playing weight in the first year after retiring. He initially worked for the Colts in community relations but eventually took his current job as an NFL analyst for ESPN.

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He appeared in two Super Bowls and won a ring in Super Bowl XLI in 2007. Saturday spent a lot of time sharing stories about his humble beginning.

“When you come in undrafted, nobody knows you and nobody really thinks you have a shot, it obviously means a great deal,” he said. “I can honestly remember my first training camp after I had been working. I’m with the Colts, we’re down in Terra Haute, I’m on the back of the bus and we’re riding back because we had to go to Indiana State because it was raining and we needed turf. We’re driving back and there was a moment where I was just thinking to myself just how fortunate I was to be there for that part. Just the mindset you have, I remember praying to God, ‘Just give me one year. Just give me one year.’

“Then 14 years later, like you said, all the Pro Bowls, all the Super Bowls, the All-Pros, you name it, whatever all that stuff is, I’ve never had any forethought that any of that was ever going to come around. When you start kind of back behind it as an undrafted free agent, it usually takes a little bit longer to get there. But once it happens, it just means that much more to you.”

His induction will be during halftime of the Monday Night Football game.

“I’ve had so many guys reach out and text me and call me and leave me voice messages over these last 24 hours,” he said. “As I’m sitting there, I texted each one of them back. I’m like, ‘Listen man, I was surrounded. I suited up beside so many really good football players.’ I was surrounded by so many men who made me look better and made me play better and drove me and held me accountable and asked me to be a dependable teammate. All of those things I do not overlook.

“When you talk about a career legacy like this when you’re getting put up, you don’t get there by yourself. Every offensive lineman that I’ve suited up with, the guards that I’ve played with and the tackles that I’ve played with, the other centers that backed me up or that I backed up when I first got here, they all shaped me. They all shape you in the meeting room, they all shape you on the football field, they all have something that they can help add to your game. I tried to use each and every one of them to be the best that I could, and help make them the best that they could be. I look at all those guys. I just consider myself the guy who was fortunate enough to have a name that people remember because every one of those guys could be sitting there right beside me in that ring.”

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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