INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Saturday has concluded 13 seasons with the Colts, a tenure that ranks among the longest in franchise history.
Of the hundreds of players who have been with the Colts since 1953, only quarterbacks John Unitas (17) and Peyton Manning (14) have been associated with the team for more seasons than Saturday.
A veteran of 197 games (188 starts) who has been on eight division winners and a world champion with the club, Saturday has been one of the franchise's most successful players.
The recently-concluded 2011 season was one of the most difficult of Saturday's career. A day after the season ended, Saturday talked about the changing nature of the business.
"I don't think anybody really knows what's going to happen," said Saturday. "We'll take each day as it comes and check it out. Obviously every season when it's over, you know there's going to be change. For any football season, that always stays (the case)."
Like many of his teammates, Saturday has enjoyed a near-annual playoff extension to his regular seasons. Eleven of his 13 years have had playoff berths, so the difficult nature that hit him caused him to know fans felt it as well. In the end, he concedes the team did not measure up to how it performed in other years.
"Not going to the playoffs with as good as we've been, to have a year like this, it's been frustrating," said Saturday. "It's been surprising and frustrating for our fans as well. It's just something you go through.
"We didn't play well. I think that sums up the season. We played hard and gave ourselves a chance (during the year). We didn't make enough plays to make it happen."
When the season was over, a reflective veteran voiced his regard for the fight his teammates had during a season that featured more adversity than any had imagined.
"I think to a degree (I can reflect)," said Saturday. "There are men who I have played with for a long time, who I have great relationships with and have a ton of respect for. You don't know what's going to happen to every guy's future, where guys are going to end up. I will make time to let those guys know how much I think of them, and I have throughout my career and even up to (the end of the last game). I told guys, 'I appreciate the effort, appreciate the consistency, the pro that you are.' "
One of the reasons for the struggle in 2011 was the season-long absence of Manning, who recuperated and rehabilitated after neck surgeries. Manning never had missed a career start, appearing in 208 consecutive games, an NFL record streak for the start of a career. No teammate ever had gone into competition without Manning under center, but Saturday said his absence was acknowledged early and the duration of his unavailability was not a surprise.
"I think just not having your franchise guy is a setback," said Saturday. "He's one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play this game. When you lose that much at that position, it's going to be difficult, no matter what.
"We tried to get things started with Kerry (Collins), and it didn't really work out. That's just how football is. When you have a guy who was set in place for as long as he has and your offense is built around him the way ours was, it's tough to make changes that sudden. Regardless of when he could come back, I don't think anybody had expectations of when (it would be). We knew how serious everything was. When you have neck surgery, that's not something you just jump back from. I don't think any of us had an expectation of when (he might return). It just didn't work out. We didn't make enough plays to make the season what we wanted."
Collins started three games for the Colts before exiting with a concussion that ended his season. Third-year pro Curtis Painter started the next eight games before giving way to seventh-year veteran Dan Orlovsky.
Orlovsky was with the Colts in camp before being waived when Collins arrived. Orlovsky started the final five games, and he was the starter in the club's victories over Tennessee and Houston. Saturday had an appreciation for Orlovsky's contributions.
"Dan's a heck of a football player," said Saturday. "He gives everything he's got. He showed us toughness. He took shots and kept staying in there. He battled like a true professional."
Please visit Colts.com again for the third part of the visit with Saturday.