Jeff Saturday's departure from the Indianapolis Colts won't register on the fans' emotional scale with the same visceral anguish as Peyton Manning's release. But Saturday deserves a farewell salute, too.
Saturday was an extension of Manning, an essential second set of eyes. At his center spot, where he snapped the ball to Manning for the better part of a dozen mostly great seasons, Saturday would survey defensive schemes and point out needed adjustments before Manning went into his gyrations and audibles.
Off the field, Saturday was every bit as classy a professional as Manning. Saturday earned rave reviews for his role in the ending of the NFL lockout last summer, sealing the deal with a televised hug of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
But I'll also remember Saturday's no-nonsense leadership during the hardest of times with the 2011 Colts, when he worked with quarterbacks Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky, then worked with a locker room during loss after loss.
You find out people's true personalities during times of adversity. It's safe to say an 0-13 start was major adversity. Saturday didn't flinch. He didn't shy away from questions. He led like a veteran football player should lead – head up, forward-looking, without any excuses.
Saturday, like fellow offensive lineman Ryan Diem, who retired Friday, exited Indianapolis with his reputation enhanced on and off the field. Saturday signed a two-year deal to play for the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers should be grateful.
During the good times at Indy, with all those division titles, 12-win seasons and one big Super Bowl title, Saturday took some worry off Manning's shoulders. Saturday ran the offensive line, the most crucial yet often overlooked unit in the NFL.
Saturday came to the Colts as a free agent out of North Carolina with no NFL experience in 1999. He won a job, then won a starting role he never surrendered. The Colts drafted various centers over the last few years. None could wrest Saturday's job away. His resume includes five Pro Bowls and four All-Pro selections.
Manning and Saturday didn't always see eye to eye. There is an infamous video of Manning screaming at Saturday after some offensive problems. Yet when Manning caught some criticism for talking about “protection problems” in a playoff loss to the Steelers one season, Saturday came to his defense. And Manning never minced words about how important Saturday was to the effectiveness of the Colts' offense.
As great as Manning is, he wouldn't have been as effective without chemistry with his linemen. Saturday made sure that happened.
When Manning was released, it seemed inevitable that Saturday's time was done in Indy, too. So it was as the Colts signed a younger center, Samson Satele, most recently with the Oakland Raiders. Colts owner Jim Irsay wanted Saturday to stay on in the front office. No doubt he'll be great trading uniform for business suit. But the desire to play still burns.
It was fitting Diem retired the same day Saturday found a new team. They were part of the Manning offensive juggernaut, along with now released Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai and Anthony Gonzalez. Diem never played for another team in his 11 years. Saturday, like Manning, will put on a different uniform for the first time next season.
I've already commented on the end of the Manning era to the point where it's more than old news. The rest of the world, indeed, has moved on to Tim Tebow Mania, New York style.
Yet it would be neglectful for Colts fans to watch Saturday leave without stopping and saluting the man. He was a full partner in the Manning offense, a great show if there ever was one.
It'll be strange not to see Manning with the Colts next season, and Sundays won't be the same without Saturday.