In the hearts and minds of Indianapolis Colts fans, Jeff Saturday embodied integrity without ever the need for acknowledgement.
That’s what will make his induction into the team’s Ring of Honor, during the Colts-New York Jets Monday Night Football game, so gratifying.
The retired center was predictably self-effacing after July’s announcement that he would become the 12th Ring of Honor inductee: “My career has been much better than I deserved.”
Saturday, 40, will be joined by Colts past and present for the halftime ceremony. His popularity transcended the countless many who were his teammates.
He was true blue collar, right down to the color of his piercing eyes, a man who was working in an electrical supplies company in Raleigh, N.C., before getting an NFL tryout. Perhaps that’s why Saturday always seemed grateful, especially to fans, understanding how much money earned from mundane jobs was spent to support him and the franchise. He always took time to interact and sign autographs. It’s the least he could do.
And what better position for a selfless man to play than center? Saturday never saw himself as a star, although No. 63 went from an undrafted unknown to six Pro Bowls, ranked fifth in team history with 197 games played, third with 132 wins and set an NFL record with quarterback Peyton Manning for most games by a quarterback-center combo with 170, 120 of them wins.
“When you come in undrafted, nobody knows you and nobody really thinks you have a shot, it obviously means a great deal,” Saturday said in July. “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 … 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.”
He also stood tall for all NFL players as a instrumental leader on the NFLPA executive committee. The enduring image from an end to the 2011 NFL lockout is of Saturday and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft embracing.
His career lasted from 1999 through 2012, the last year with the Green Bay Packers, but he returned to Indianapolis to sign a one-day contract. He had to retire as a Colt. Yet his legacy surpasses his time.
Those before him in the Ring of Honor are Robert Irsay (1996), Bill Brooks (1998), Ted Marchibroda (2000), Chris Hinton (2001), Jim Harbaugh (2005), 12th Man (2007), Tony Dungy (2010), Marvin Harrison (2011), Edgerrin James (2012), Eric Dickerson (2013) and Marshall Faulk (2013).
None of them can match his Colts record of success.
He anchored an offensive line that won 115 regular-season games from 2000 to 2009, the most victories for an NFL team in a decade in league history. During his Colts career, he was part of 11 playoff qualifiers, eight division champions, two Super Bowl appearances including a Super Bowl XLI ring in 2007.
In seven seasons, the Colts’ O-line ranked first in fewest sacks allowed (1999, 2000, 2004 to 2006, 2009, 2010). He started all 16 games at center in 10 seasons and helped the Colts’ offense amass 5,000-plus net yards in 12 consecutive years from 1999 to 2010.</p>
“I suited up beside so many great players through so many years, so many good coaches,” he said. “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.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.