INDIANAPOLIS – Journeyman defensive lineman Nate Hobgood-Chittick played 33 career games for three NFL teams in three seasons, but his brief 1998-99 stay in Indianapolis with never seeing the field spawned a career for one of the franchise’s all-time great players.
Hobgood-Chittick marched into Bill Polian’s office prior to the 1999 season and had a personnel tip for one of the league’s top evaluators – sign Jeff Saturday.
“Nate went to Bill and said, ‘I’ve been on two different teams and have played against all the centers, I’m telling you my (college) roommate is better than these guys, and you should give him a chance,’ ” said Saturday. “It was a huge deal, because Nate was not a guy who was going to be playing long. He was fighting for his own job. For him to talk to Bill took a lot of courage.”
Polian listened and the player who scouts from other teams said was too small had a tryout with the Colts. Indianapolis became home for Saturday, who had been working for an electrical supply company.
Saturday anchored the Indianapolis line through the 2011 season, finishing with 197 regular-season games played, 132 that were victories. Today, Saturday will don his number 63 jersey as he retires today as a Colt – the first such ceremony in the club’s local era.
“It’s incredible,” said Saturday. “To have something like this (ceremony) be the first time (and) for an offensive linemen, that just tells you how giving Jim (Irsay) is and how he looks at every player as somebody who is endearing to the organization.”
Saturday’s prolific play on the field and dedication to the city off it makes him one of the most popular Colts ever. He was honored to have played for Irsay.
“Jim, he couldn’t have been a better owner than he has been to me personally,” said Saturday. “He has been a guy who has supported my wife, Karen, and me and all our community endeavors. All the things he does outside of the football side (I appreciated).
“Obviously, him keeping these teams together for so many years and give us chances to win so many football games (was unique). He had to put his money where his mouth was. He paid a number of guys for a long time and kept us together. That’s special for an owner. He put it together. He’s starting to do it again with a new phase of men.”
Saturday departed Indianapolis and played last season in Green Bay. Playing in two such organizations he says was a wonderful experience, but the breaking in process there underscored the fondness of his years here.
“The relationships I got to experience with the Colts now stand out. I look at where the Packers are now, and so many of their players are so young. They remind me of the Colts earlier in my career,” said Saturday. “It’s fun to be around young guys, but the thing I missed the most were the relationships of guys you played with and the ability to draw upon all the experiences you had together. That was tough to try to replace.”
Saturday played for eight division champions, two conference titlists and one world champion. His regular-season victory total ties John Unitas for second-most in franchise history, behind Peyton Manning’s 141.
Saturday became a household name along with many teammates, and that is what is memorable to him of his Colts days.
“Just coming to an organization like the Colts and being put in there with some of the guys who are now my closest friends – Tarik Glenn, Ryan Diem and others who I played with on the line for so many years – and obviously my relationship with Peyton Manning for so many years (it’s special),” said Saturday. “It’s just an incredible experience to play with those guys, guys like Reggie (Wayne), Dommy Rhodes, Marvin (Harrison), Edgerrin (James) or Joe Addai. You can go through the list of both sides of the balls – Robert (Mathis), Dwight (Freeney), Gary (Brackett), the nucleus we kept together for years people could name all the guys. I don’t think it happens very often in the NFL.”
Saturday helped shape the future of the game with his work in labor matters prior to the 2011 season. He was a guiding force in helping the sport he loves reach a peace accord for 10 years. Among others, Saturday was a voice of reason in the labor process.
That he even was in such a position was beyond anything Saturday ever imagined.
“I can remember talking to my mom about, ‘I hope I just get one year,’ ” said Saturday. “It far exceeds anything I could ever have expected.
“This thing has been much bigger and better than I ever anticipated. God has been awfully good to me in my career and my life. I couldn’t be more thankful for the way it turned out.”