INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Saturday joined the Colts in a non-trumpeted manner as a free agent on January 7, 1999.
Fourteen years and two months later, Saturday signed with the Colts again on another free basis. This time he inked a ceremonial contract and retired to join the club's front office, the first such event in the club's 29 seasons in Indianapolis.
"When you talk about players that I've seen over the last 41 years, Jeff has meant so much to this franchise," said Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay. "Here's a man who came into the league, no one thought he was going to do much. (He) wasn't a first-round draft pick and is an individual who took this town and this state over with his integrity, with his performance on the field, just an absolutely incredible individual."
"Back in blue," said Saturday with pen in hand. It was a happy/happy moment that closed the book on an outstanding playing career and opened the door to assist in community relations and sales efforts. "I'm truly grateful and humbled. I'm excited to retire as a Colt. This is my home. I was known, no matter what team I was playing for, as a Colt. It's good to put that horseshoe on and go out that way."
Saturday joined a roster budding with young talent and soon anchored the line of an offense that almost annually netted 5,000 yards and 400 points for a decade.
He and his teammates won eight division titles, two AFC Championships and one Super Bowl, while the franchise's 115 regular-season victories from 2000-09 set the record for the NFL's winningest decade.
So dominant were the Colts that they tied the NFL's best record over a 100-game regular season span by going 81-19 during a period from 2003-09. Ironically, New England shared the same record as the Colts, starting and ending it six weeks earlier than Indianapolis.
The two franchises were on parallel tracks of greatness and played what Irsay and Saturday cited as their "signature" game when the Colts rallied to beat New England, 38-34, in the 2007 AFC Championship game.
The Colts came back from a 21-3 second-quarter deficit with second-half scoring drives of 76, 76, 67, 59 and 80 yards. Saturday scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery in the 32-point second half, then paved the way for Joseph Addai's three-yard run with 1:00 left for the win.
"The AFC Championship game trumps them all for me," said Saturday. "Getting to recover a fumble for a touchdown, get to slay the Patriots (laughs), all those things, and the offensive line play in that game was probably the best we had played.
"We took that game over. The five of us imposed our will on those guys. There are very few big games where you watched that happen. To be a part of that was super special. That's the one for me, even above the Super Bowl."
It was high cotton in Indianapolis, and Saturday was effusive in his praise for the surroundings.
"I'm a Colt. I love representing this organization," said Saturday. "This organization is what I hope all the NFL teams strive to be. In every negotiation I was involved with the (NFLPA) and the NFL, I used us (the Colts) as an example of what you should strive to, and I make no bones about it. This organization is the best in the business.
"This…is my Colts Hall of Fame, the guys that I played with for the most of my time: Marvin Harrison, Tarik Glenn, Peyton Manning, Hunter Smith, Reggie Wayne, Justin Snow, Ryan Diem, Dwight Freeney, Raheem Brock, Dallas Clark, Robert Mathis, Bob Sanders, Ryan Lilja, Jim Sorgi.
Those men had a tremendous impact on my life. I loved playing with each and every one of those guys and all the players that I had the opportunity to play with."
Today is not an ending. It is a happy continuation, a celebration of a job well done.
"It was just absolutely incredible how Jeff has made his mark in this league and for the franchise," said Irsay. "When I think of one player where the heartbeat of those 12-13 years, you just think about Jeff, his integrity and always trying to be a better man, a better person, a better example, truly the leader of our team. … one of the greatest success stories in the NFL."