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With 1:02 seconds left in one of the greatest games in recent NFL memory, the Indianapolis Colts were at the New England Patriots' 3 yard line, down 34-31. Just two quarters earlier, the home team had been left for dead after falling behind 21-3 early in the 2007 AFC Championship. But in the greatest game of Peyton Manning's career, he led his team back in the second half and the game turned into a back-and-forth battle between Manning and Tom Brady (who, by the way renew their rivalry this Sunday, with Manning in Denver now). But at this critical moment, with the Colts on the threshold of their first super bowl appearance of the Indianapolis era, the key play was provided by center Jeff Saturday.
The play was a handoff up the middle - right up Saturday's alley. And you could drive a truck through the alley Saturday created. Saturday delivered "the block" that allowed running back Joseph Addai to run untouched into the end zone, sending the Colts to their first super bowl (which they won 29-17 over the Chicago Bears).
The play was the biggest, if not the best, play of Saturday's career, and it came in the best game of his career (he also scored a touchdown that game. Yes, that's the "he fumbled the freaking football" play.)
For 13 years, however, Jeff Saturday provided the Indianapolis Colts with excellent play. During his time with the Colts (1999-2011), he was consistently among the best pass blockers in the league. He was a five-time pro bowler, a two-time first team all-pro, a two-time AFC champion and won a super bowl. He was integral to the success of the Colts over the past decade and the chemistry he had with Manning was simply incredible.
The leadership he brought to the Colts also was incredible. Saturday is a tremendous person and leader, and added to his tremendous play on the field, he was a huge part of the success the Colts had.
Also, Saturday helped resolve the NFL lockout two offseasons ago, when the NFL and the players were at odds. Saturday was reportedly one of the big influences in getting a deal worked out, and the image of him embracing Patriots owner Robert Kraft in a hug after the issue was resolved is the lasting image of the lockout.
This past offseason, which saw the departure of classic Colts such as Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett and Peyton Manning, also saw the departure of Saturday. A free agent, he decided that it was time to leave. And it was. He would certainly have helped the Colts this year, but he wouldn't have won another ring in Indy, and he would have probably felt like he was on a new team anyways. Surprisingly, however, he did not follow his quarterback to Denver, instead signing with the Green Bay Packers. He believed that he still had a few years left in him, which is true. He has played well so far this season.
That said, the Colts want Saturday back someday. George Bremer tweeted the other day:
Saturday said Jim Irsay has offered him a job with the organization, and he will consider working in the front office someday. #Colts— George Bremer (@gmbremer) October 3, 2012
That is an offer I expect him to take. He said earlier this week that he still plans to live in Indy, and this job would make a lot of sense for him. So I don't think that we've said goodbye to one of the most beloved Colts of all time, just a "see you again soon".
He returns to Indianapolis this Sunday, his first time as the visiting team. He deserves a warm welcome, and I'm sure he will get one. Yeah, I want his quarterback to be on the ground all day and I want the Packers offense to struggle mightily - but that doesn't mean I won't be rooting for Saturday on Sunday, or for this season. That video tribute will be special. It will be good to see number 63 again, even if he's wearing that strange green color.
But Colts fans can take heart that it likely is not goodbye - just a "see you again real soon". His future seems to lie in Indianapolis after he is done playing. But for now, the man who made "the block" will just keep blocking - even with a change of scenery.