INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Saturday has been here before – a lot more than once.
But although it's true he is no stranger to Honolulu, Hawaii, in late January/early February, and although he now has reached the hard-earned status of long-time Pro Bowl veteran, it doesn't mean the Colts' veteran center doesn't value the honor.
Far from it.
Because although Saturday is far more familiar with his surroundings this week than he dared dream possible a decade ago, that familiarity hasn't made the experience routine.
The Pro Bowl, Saturday said, remains an honor.
And no way is it an honor the veteran is taking for granted.
"It's one of those things that is surreal," Saturday said this week as he prepared to play for the AFC in the 2011 Pro Bowl, which will be played Sunday at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.
"Coming here as many times as possible just makes it that much more special. Anytime you get named it's a super special feeling."
Saturday, a 12-year NFL veteran who also made the game in 2005-07 and last season, said while being named to the game is a career-measuring honor, there also is a special element to the game-week festivities and the game itself. In addition to being one of the NFL's highest honors, it also is an annual meeting place of the game's elite players.
As such, while the Pro Bowl is a time for relaxing and enjoying the moments after a season, Saturday said it also is a time for something else.
"Anytime you're around the elite of your business and you get a chance to sit down and have conversations with guys, it's valuable," Saturday said. "You get to learn how they do things the same, how they do things differently. You're around guys you'll probably never get an opunity to play with unless you're out here.
"Out here, you get to see the way guys' styles are. I always tell young guys, 'Take advantage of it.' You see guys like (Colts quarterback) Peyton (Manning) and other guys who spend so much time at the top, people think it's just a given, but you have to go out and work at it. When it does happen, it's definitely a great moment to be out here with everybody."
A little more than a half decade ago, Pro Bowl week had a different feel for Saturday.
Early last decade, from 2002-04, Saturday played annually at a level close to or equal the NFL's top centers. Teammates, coaches and Colts personnel officials spoke of Saturday as playing at a Pro Bowl level, and he widely was considered one of the NFL's up-and-coming young players at his position.
Yet, with several veteran centers more experienced and more well-known, Saturday went the first six seasons of his NFL career without a Pro Bowl appearance.
At the time, Saturday spoke of the process as part of the development in an NFL career, and this week, he spoke of it with a veteran's perspective.
"You play so hard for so long, and you feel like you're having years where it would justify heading over," said Saturday, who this season made the game as an alternate because Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey is playing with Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl next week.
"A lot of times, you have to wait until you build a name."
Saturday, who joined the Colts as a free agent before the 1999 season, has played on playoff teams in 11 of 12 seasons with the franchise, and he said without question that success has helped the name-building process.
"Winning games obviously goes a long way to help that," Saturday said. "The more we won, the more well-known you become. It tends to pay itself off, the later you get in your career, just getting opportunities to head back out (to the Pro Bowl)."
Saturday said although he now has gone to the game in nearly half of his NFL seasons, he vividly remembers not only the first time he made the Pro Bowl, but the first time he got close. This was in the 2004 season, when he was named an alternate behind Jeff Hartings and Kevin Mawae.
It wasn't the Pro Bowl trip he coveted, and that many around the Colts believed he had earned, but it was recognition. And at the time, Saturday said that mattered.
"When they called me and said, 'You're the first alternate,' I remember thinking, 'Obviously, things are paying off,' Saturday said. "I thought, 'People are beginning to know who I am, and my play is beginning to speak for itself.'
"It's one of those things where you feel awfully honored because it takes everybody. It takes coaches. It takes players. It takes fans. It's all of those things coming together at once. So, it's a special thing."
Saturday said the importance of the honor, and the difficulty of garnering it on a consistent basis, was brought to light in a conversation he had this week with Manning, making his 11th Pro Bowl appearance in 13 seasons.
"We were talking and he told me there were 30 first-time guys, or something to that effect, this year,' Saturday said. "At the Pro Bowl, there's a lot of turnover. It's not one of those things where you keep making it. You have to perform each year. You just have to keep battling and keep playing, and then those things tend to take care of themselves.
"My wife and I were talking about it on the way out – five times out here, and a couple of Super Bowls. I don't know that I could ask for a better career. It's been blessing after blessing."