The kids – 12-year-old Jeffrey, 10-year-old Savannah and 6-year-old Joshua – could’ve simply stayed back in Indianapolis with Mom. They’d spent their entire lives there, with their friends and their schools and their sports teams. They didn’t need to move just because Dad got a new job.
But that thought never entered Jeff and Karen Saturday’s minds when, after 13 years with the Indianapolis Colts, they found a new football home in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
“It was an all-in for thing for us,” Saturday said after practice on Wednesday, as he and his family prepared to return to Indianapolis for Sunday’s Packers-Colts game at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I knew if I was going to keep playing – my wife and I talked about it – I knew wherever I went the whole family was going. Football’s just not that important to me. But my wife, she was on board. ‘Yeah, we’ll go experience something different.’ Because I wanted to play. I didn’t want to be done yet. I wanted to play a little bit more and this was the perfect scenario. You’ve got a good line, good team, all those things, so my wife said, ‘Hey, let’s move to Green Bay for a little bit and see what it’s like up there.’”
And it’s worked out just fine. After giving retirement “due consideration,” he decided he wanted to play. Even though he’s taking a year-to-year approach to playing – although he did sign a two-year free-agent deal with the Packers in March – the Saturdays bought a house in suburban Howard instead of renting. And while they’ll return to Indianapolis after the season and go back to their familiar friends and schools and surroundings, the kids have fit right in here.
“They all love it. All three of my kids, they love the neighborhood, they love the Packers. They’ve jumped right aboard,” Saturday said with a smile. “Their transition has been much better than I even anticipated. My wife and I, both of us thought that would be the toughest, and that was the easiest by far.”
The transition for Dad hasn’t been easy – in fact, “Football-wise it’s taken some getting used to,” Saturday admitted – but he also can feel the connection growing stronger with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang and in the locker room where he’s been one of the “new guys” after being the elder statesman in the Colts’ locker room for so long.
“When we signed Jeff Saturday, we knew we were getting a veteran that has a lot of pelts on the wall, has played a lot of football, who's had a lot of experience,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “You knew you were getting a guy that's very consistent, kind of an old-school pro, brings his lunch box every day. He has a lot of personality. He has a lot of natural leadership ability. I think he's been an excellent fit for us as a football team and more importantly in the offensive line.”
Said Rodgers: “Jeff has done a great job for us. He understands the tempo of the no-huddle and has been around the game for a long time, so there’s not much that surprises him. He’s got little tricks of the trade that he incorporates to his game. I think he’s been a very good leader for the offensive line room. He’s playing next to two of the top guys in the league, that doesn’t hurt; T.J. and Josh, they’ve played really solid this season.”
By his own admission, Saturday hasn’t been perfect. At age 37, he understands why some questioned if he’d be the same player he was while earning five Pro Bowl selections, two All-Pro nods and a Super Bowl title with the Colts.
“It’s been fun playing with him,” Lang said. “I never had any questions if he could still play or not. He’s proven that from the first day he was here.”
That said, Saturday doesn’t always get to his man like he used to, doesn’t always finish his blocks the way he once did. In an unfamiliar system, he’s missed some protection calls – one in particular in Seattle was still bothering him on Wednesday – and sometimes found himself thinking about what certain phrases meant in the Colts system. He was at the center of the offensive line’s implosion in Seattle, where it certainly appeared CenturyLink Field’s famed “12th man” got to the Packers with its deafening din.
But he also believes his rapport with Rodgers and the line will improve with every game.
“Every time you learn something, you apply it the next week, so it kind of comes in bunches when you have mistakes and you have issues,” Saturday said. “So I’m gaining experience and gaining knowledge each and every week. It’s just something that just takes time. I haven’t done it before, this my first chance doing it.”
And having just played in his 210th NFL game (including playoffs) last week, Sunday presents another first: Playing as a visitor in Indianapolis.
“I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t awkward. You play 13 years in one place, to go back and play against them now is definitely different,” said Saturday, who picked the Packers over offers from the Denver Broncos – the new team of his old quarterback, Peyton Manning – and the Tennessee Titans, who play in the AFC South with the Colts.
“The funny thing is I don’t even know where the visitor’s locker room is. I’ve seen where they run out, but I don’t know where it is in the stadium. It’s just such a different mentality.
“But I’m excited about the opportunity to go down there. I’ll see a ton of people and friends and family who are all down in the area. Hopefully we’ll take care of business; that always makes you feel a little bit better.”
Saturday left the Colts on good terms, so he’s not expecting to get booed; in fact, Saturday said owner Jim Irsay has made it “very clear” he’d be welcomed back when his playing days are over for a role in the club’s front office. He’ll also be the subject of a video montage during the third quarter on the scoreboard. (“I hope it’s a good one,” he told Indiana reporters.)
That said, the team has changed dramatically after last year’s 2-14 finish – new general manager, new coaching staff, new quarterback, new players – but he still looks forward to connecting with family, friends and former teammates. He’s bought roughly 70 tickets for the game, and Karen and the kids will make the trip.
“Emotionally, I’m sure is going to be tough,” Saturday admitted. “They’ve got a new GM, new coaching staff, mostly new players, it’s not the same as when I was there. But still, it’s the horseshoe, it’s the blue, it’s all the things you rally around for so many years. It’s tough, I still know a ton of guys on the team, I played with them.
“Once the schedule came out … that’s when you look around and sort of go, ‘Wow, I’m going back to Indy, that’s going to be a little bit different.’ That’s when it hit.
“You have to kind of put it aside though, you have to take it for the job it is and go play and let the emotions come after the game is over.”