INDIANAPOLIS –A free agent who made the team in 1999 and who authored one of the most noteworthy Colts careers returns on Sunday.
Jeff Saturday visits this weekend as a member of the Green Bay Packers, returning to the city that witnessed him play in 197 regular-season games over 13 memorable seasons.
One of the most popular sports figures locally, it will be a day with feelings.
"It's mixed emotions. Obviously you're coming back with a job at hand, but I spent my whole career there. You're 13 years not only on a football team, but helping build a community," said Saturday. "(Karen) and I for so many years have been so involved. You've got mixed emotions. I obviously have so much respect for the Colts and their organization.
"I've got a ton of family and friends who are there. I've got a crazy number of folks who have called me for tickets and are going to the game. … I still keep in contact with Reggie (Wayne) and a number of the guys over there, even (Anthony) Castonzo and Joe Reitz. I'm still in contact with a bunch of those guys."
After appearing in 11 games at guard in 1999, Saturday settled in as the starting center in 2000. Saturday anchored the spot going forward and helped build a fortress that saw the club's offense produce at least 5,000 12 times, while scoring more than 400 points almost annually.
Eight times in a nine-year span from 2002-10, the club ranked in the NFL's top five in fewest sacks allowed, five times leading the pack. Eleven of the 12 best sacks per pass ratio in a club history dating back to 1953 happened during Saturday's career.
Counting the playoffs, Saturday appeared in 216 games. He was a member of eight division winners, two AFC champions and one world champion. Saturday helped the Colts earn 115 regular-season wins from 2000-09, the best NFL decade total, along with helping the team win a league-record 23 straight games from 2008-09.
Saturday started 170 games with Peyton Manning, the NFL mark for a center-quarterback tandem. Saturday participated in 132 career regular-season victories, tying Hall-of-Famer John Unitas for second-most in franchise history (141, Manning).
While he departed to continue a career, Saturday believes it happened as well as possible. He bets there will be a good reception on game day.
"Hopefully good," said Saturday. "Professionally you left on as good terms as you can. They didn't release me. The time was just up. That's where football is. I thank the Colts and Mr. Irsay for all the years that he gave me. Those guys have been a class organization, and I have a ton of respect for them. I don't think the fans have any hostility towards me going anywhere else. They all know it's business. Hopefully, it'll be a warm reception."
Saturday considered retiring after the 2011 season but after thought and prayer, he decided to keep playing. His family has moved to Green Bay as well, but Saturday believes Indianapolis is in his post-career plans.
"I think Indy is eventually my home. That's what my family, my wife, all three of my kids are – Hoosiers, that's what we know," said Saturday. "Our church is there, my kids' schools, everything is back there. We have made Indy our home for the 13 years I was there. I'm not planning to make any changes with that. I love that community and (we've) been very involved for so many years. I'm not going to pull up roots just because I'm not playing football (there). It's a great place to raise a family."
While Saturday did not play for Chuck Pagano, he was saddened to hear of the news involving a coach and person of whom he is fond.
"It's tough. He's such a personable guy," said Saturday. "He's got an electric personality. Guys feed off that. He's an exciting guy to be around. I sent him a text when I found out just saying that we were praying for he and his family and communicated with him that way.
"He's a good man, and I think he's doing it the right way in Indy. Players, they're going to be led. Bruce (Arians) has been around the game forever and he's a great coach. Those guys will fall in line with him. I heard that Bruce said he's going to leave the light on in the office for Chuck, so I'm sure they're trying to unify behind this thing. With Reggie (Wayne) and (Robert) Mathis and all the guys, even (Antoine) Bethea, they've got so many guys that have been around that for so long. They know how to handle adversity."
The club will honor Saturday during the game with a video, something the organization has done for many past players who return in competition. Saturday will be ready for the moment.
"I hope it's a good one. I hope they put some good stuff up there (laughs)," said Saturday. "You appreciate it. As a player, I gave the same as I'm doing here. I gave everything I had. I played as hard as I could. I felt like I led the team on and off the field and did the best job that I could. I'm proud of the time that I was there and always look fondly upon that time."
Q&A with Jeff Saturday – (On whether he'll make a mistake and go into the Colts locker room) "I don't know. The crazy thing is I don't think I've ever even been to the visitors' locker room in Indy. I don't even know where I'm going to be. It's all going to look different and obviously coming out and seeing the team. You're so accustomed to seeing that blue and the horseshoe and the whole deal. Hopefully, I don't jog the wrong way early. I'll turn around and head back towards the right side." (On if he sees himself working for this franchise in the future) "I don't know. I know Jim (Irsay) has made it very clear that the opportunity would be there. I'll look at it. I strongly considered it this time. He made it an option before I even came back and played football. Jim has treated me as well as you could possibly ask for as an owner. Pete Ward the same way. Those guys have been just fantastic to me and have made it very clear that I'd be offered something and they would love me to be around the organization. To a man who's worked as hard and given as much as I have to that organization, that feels awfully good." (On going as center from Peyton Manning to Aaron Rodgers) "It's been good. I haven't had a bad day yet. You're going with two great quarterbacks who know how to win football games and it's fun. You watch them do their thing, and you can get caught up in being a fan of those guys as well. I love watching both of them play. It's exciting when you get around players who are good football players and make plays, it's fun to hang around." (On Manning's hands and Rodgers' hands) "They're all just hands, brother. They're all just hands. They've thrown a lot of touchdown passes between them but other than that, they're just the normal hands."