By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
A year ago, Peyton Manning stood on the stage at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center and said goodbye to the Indianapolis Colts.
Exactly 365 days later, Jeff Saturday stood in the same spot and said hello again.
The longtime Colts center capped a classy and relatively low-key retirement party Thursday by raising a blue No. 63 jersey alongside owner Jim Irsay and re-asserting his love for nearly all things Indianapolis.
“This does not happen for many players, especially many offensive lineman,” Saturday said of the nearly half-hour news conference that included the signing of a ceremonial one-day contract allowing the five-time Pro Bowler to officially retire as a member of the Colts. “I’m truly grateful and humbled for this opportunity. When Mr. Irsay and I were talking about it, it was something that meant a lot to me and meant a lot to him as well. I’m excited to retire as a Colt.
“I mean, this is my home. This is what we’ve supported for so many years. I was known, no matter what team I was playing for, as a Colt. So it’s good to put that horseshoe on and go out that way.”
It appears Saturday will be sticking around for far more than one day.
Though his specific role is unclear, the former offensive lineman will be working with the team this year in some capacity.
Irsay broke into a wide smile as he welcomed Saturday back to the organization and hinted at potential big plans for the future.
“He’s going to be involved with media relations, an ambassador for the franchise, and we’ll see where it goes from there,” Irsay said. “He may have an interest eventually in coaching, may have an interest in even becoming a general manager, but right now I’m going to sign this contract and let Jeff come up and sign his portion so we can make it official that Jeff is a Colt today. And this is not costing me anything.”
The last line drew a hearty laugh, and Irsay then walked to a nearby table and signed the deal. He joked Saturday had asked for a new pickup truck and said that was under consideration.
Saturday then walked to the same table and signed his portion of the deal. He then launched into a laundry list of people he wanted to thank, including his three children seated behind him on the stage. When he got to his wife, Karen, his voice halted with emotion and he had to turn back to face the audience.
Saturday also had high praise for Irsay, whom he called the most supportive owner in the NFL on and off the field. Saturday said it was Irsay who encouraged him to keep playing last year, even though it would mean leaving the Colts.
“That’s the kind of owner he is,” Saturday said. “He was always encouraging, even if it wasn’t in his best interest or he may have wanted something different.”
Saturday became a fan favorite during his 13 seasons with the Colts as an everyman symbol. He was seen as a blue-collar worker who was always ready and willing to give back to the community.
And his favorite memories from his playing days reflect that ethos. He reminisced about winning the AFC Championship Game in 2006 at the RCA Dome against the New England Patriots, but he seemed most proud of the record he shares with Peyton Manning for most games played by a quarterback-center combo.
“He never expected you to give anything that he wasn’t going to give himself,” Saturday said. “The relationship between a center and a quarterback is special.”
Saturday said the Colts are the organizational model all NFL teams should follow, and he’s excited about the future with Andrew Luck as the new face of the franchise.
But he also talked a lot about the past and what being a part of this organization has meant to him. He called Colts fans the greatest in the world, and it’s clear he considers them a big part of the team’s success.
But he also spoke about the impact the organization has made on his life off the field. He rattled off a list of favorite teammates — Marvin Harrison, Tarik Glenn, Manning, Hunter Smith, Reggie Wayne, Justin Snow, Ryan Diem, Dwight Freeney, Raheem Brock, Dallas Clark, Robert Mathis, Bob Sanders, Ryan Lilja and Jim Sorgi — and said he appreciates the time he spent with every player he fought alongside in the locker room.
“I’ve played with a number of men who truly made a marked difference in my life,” Saturday said. “I encourage people to be a part of this game for that reason. I’ve played other team sports. I’ve been involved in a lot of other things, but football is the ultimate team sport. These men became my family and made this thing a true sport. We made it happen, and we watched the city turn into a football city, and I watched all these men mature and have families. We began to do life together, and that’s unparalleled, and that’s something I will never forget and I always will remember.”