When Jeff Saturday was coming out of college in 1998, NFL scouts had labeled him "undersized" and had concerns about whether he could hold his own against opposing nose tackles. The New England Patriots' Vince Wilfork, who Saturday planted into the RCA Dome turf to put Joseph Addai into the end zone for the game winning touchdown in the AFC Championship game, will tell you Saturday could more than hold his own.
Saturday was an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina who was cut by the Baltimore Ravens before training camp even began. After Saturday's college roommate successfully lobbied Colts GM Bill Polian to bring Saturday in for a tryout, he stuck with the Colts as a backup guard. Fourteen seasons, six Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl championship later, Saturday will go down as one of the greatest centers ever to play the game. He's certainly the best at the position ever to wear the horseshoe.
Saturday became the man who delivered the ball to Peyton Manning on a full time basis in 2000. He would start 85 consecutive games before injury forced him to miss two games in 2004. In all, Saturday would play in 197 games as a member of the Indianapolis Colts, fourth most in franchise history behind only Manning, Johnny Unitas and Eugene Daniel.
While Saturday was overmatched size-wise most weeks, he was the most cerebral center in the game. As the man who initiated the offense for Peyton Manning, that was a prerequisite. Saturday and Manning were the consummate pre-snap tandem. While Manning scanned the defense for alignment and where the holes would be for backs and receivers, Saturday was a savant when it came to picking up blitzes and getting his fellow linemen in the right position to pick them up.
Manning was one of the least-sacked quarterbacks in the NFL during his years in Indianapolis despite what seemed like a revolving door at times along the offensive line. The constants during that time were Manning's lightning-quick release and Jeff Saturday. Saturday rarely left his quarterback out to dry.
Saturday was always a Colts' fan-favorite, but perhaps no more popular than in the aforementioned AFC Championship game in 2007 that sent the Colts to their Super Bowl win over Chicago. With the Patriots leading 28-21 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Colts were poised to tie the game. It looked like they would when Dominic Rhodes plowed into the end zone. He went in without the football, however. When the players unpiled, Saturday had the football and the game was tied. Saturday would then make the key block that put Addai in the end zone for the game-winner later.
After Manning parted ways with the Colts, Saturday decided to do the same, despite Jim Irsay's desire to bring him back for a final season and to work with Andrew Luck. Saturday played 14 games with the Packers in 2012, but was nowhere near his old self. He signed a one day contract with the Colts after the season and announced his retirement.
Saturday will work within the Colts organization as well as make his debut as an ESPN studio analyst in 2013. His name awaits inscription on the team's Ring of Honor.Tags: Football, Indianapolis, Indianapolis Colts, Jeff Saturday, Jim Irsay, Joseph Addai, NFL, Peyton Manning