Stay classy, Jeff Saturday

Chatting with the retired Colts center is a reminder of what made him a Pro Bowl player and an even better human being.

His descriptive words flowed freely, as they always have, when retired Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday discussed his career last week in a conference call.

Saturday was always regarded as an all-time good guy as a six-time Pro Bowl center. Reporters never hesitated to chat with him because his interviews always provided in-depth perspective. Fans always rushed to greet him and get an autograph because Saturday was mindful of the importance to interact.

That’s not the case with so many of today’s NFL players, who are about winning games, making money and not making much time for anything else.

But reporters and fans notice those who carry themselves with class.

Saturday gushed with pride about the announcement that he will be inducted into the Colts’ Ring of Honor on Sept. 21. He couldn’t have been more believable when he spoke of how this honor was beyond his expectation.

In 20 minutes of sharing his thoughts, reporters were reminded of what it was like with him during the Colts’ previous glory days, what many describe as the “Peyton Manning Era.” The Colts turned a basketball town into an NFL city because they were a winner with guys like Saturday setting a professional example.

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Saturday started dropping names from his playing days. The list is long. He didn’t just mention the stars. He recalled playing with so many other guys who were good people.

“When I walked in the offense (in 1999), you had Adam Meadows, you had Tarik Glenn, you had Steve McKinney, Larry Moore and myself, and Wavery Jackson as well,” he said of the O-line. “So we had a good group up front, right. You had Ken Dilger, Marcus Pollard at tight end, you had ‘Marv’ (Marvin Harrison) on the outside and then later on a couple years you have Reggie (Wayne) come in. Peyton, I had Edgerrin (James) for a number of years. I had (Joseph) Addai, I had ‘Domi’ (Dominic) Rhodes. I mean I could not be more fortunate.

“I don’t ever miss the fact that all those guys around me made me look so much better. As my years progressed, I get Jake Scott. I get Ryan Lilja. Ryan Diem comes in and Charlie Johnson. The hits just keep on coming, you know what I mean? I really do, man, I look back and think about all these guys. It blows me away at how fortunate I am and that’s all God. Like you said, there’s no way I could have scripted the way my career went any better, just to walk out and have these guys.”

The Colts won 115 regular-season games from 2000 to 2009, the most of any franchise in a decade in league history. But for many like Saturday, the bond they shared was a good, old-fashioned love of the game.

“Look, these guys loved to play ball,” he said. “People forget we had a ton of fun playing ball. We showed up and we were ready to work. There wasn’t a lot of nonsense going on off the field. We literally lined up and enjoyed going and playing. I am so fortunate of where I was and the city I ended up in. Think about Indianapolis at the time, it was a race town and a basketball town and the way that we changed this city and converted it to a football city and one with a synergy like none other, man please, I am 100 percent thankful for that opportunity all the way around.”

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Saturday played through 2012, the final season with the Green Bay Packers. He then returned to Indianapolis to sign a contract for one day and retire with the Colts.

Now an NFL analyst for ESPN, he’s often asked what he misses most from his playing days. And the answer couldn’t be more obvious, then Saturday, as always, goes the extra mile to give examples of what he misses.

“The guys,” he said. “People ask me all the time, tell me what you think? I miss the plane rides home. I miss sitting there smoking a cigar, you know a post-win cigar with the guys and laughing about what had happened. I miss the bus rides from the stadiums to the plane. You miss the preseason games where you had the starters come out and watch these young guys develop and helping them turn into the players they’re going to be in the future. Those are the things you miss, you miss real life.

“You know you miss the dinners and the lunches we used to have every Friday, you know the offensive line and the dinners we had and that camaraderie is irreplaceable. The games, do I miss the game? I do and I loved to play and I had a ton of fun. But that’s not what made it fun. What made it fun for me is that I could joke around with guys on the practice field and you guys all saw me. I love to laugh. I love to play pranks on people. I love to have fun with people. That’s what you miss, you know what I mean? When you look back, do you remember the games? Sometimes, but honestly not very often. It’s more telling stories of, ‘Hey during training camp this year, this is what we did.’ Talking about when my room was across from Reggie and Peyton and Diem and I are down there with Lilja and Tarik and what we’re doing, acting a fool, those are the stories that you tell much more often than anything about a game.”

Asked his all-time best prank, Saturday said, “The all-time best prank is when we put a couple of golf carts out on a little floating dock in the middle of a lake at Rose-Hulman. (Laughs.) It could not have been more stealth. That one and the little packing peanuts, filled up a coach’s car with that. Those two are probably my favorites.”

Saturday praised his old O-line coach, Howard Mudd, more making him the player he became.

“I tell people that all the time,” Saturday said, “he drove me to be a better player than even I thought I could be.”

As the teleconference ended, the player reminded reporters of the kind of man he has been.

“Before you hang up, man, I want to tell all of you thank you, man,” Saturday said. “You guys were fantastic for all the years. You all were always pro-Colt and I really appreciated it, man. It made coming to work on the rough days much easier because of the way you guys handled yourselves. So I just wanted to say I appreciate it, man. Thank you guys so much.”

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

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