GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jeff Saturday expects his return to Indianapolis on Sunday to be “awkward.” After 13 years playing for the Colts, the veteran center will experience a lot of firsts when he arrives to Lucas Oil Stadium with the Green Bay Packers as a member of the road team.
“The funny thing is, I don’t even know where the visitor’s locker room is,” Saturday said following Wednesday’s practice. “I’ve seen where they (the visiting players) run out, but I don’t know where it is in the stadium. It sounds silly, but even where you park, where your wife parks, all those things that come along with being with a franchise so long, and all that being different now.”
Saturday’s long, successful run in Indianapolis ended this offseason as the organization continued its overhaul of nearly every aspect of the team. The Colts released four-time NFL MVP quarterback Peyton Manning, brought in a new general manager and changed the coaching staff.
“It’s not nearly the same team as when I was there,” Saturday said. “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. Going against those guys this upcoming week will be interesting.”
The roster changes in Indianapolis, geared toward a youth movement with quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick, signaled the end of an era for the 37-year-old Saturday. As the Packers, Tennessee Titans and Manning’s new Denver Broncos team all pursued Saturday in free agency, the Colts did not.
“We never really went down that road,” Saturday said. “Once free agency opened and I started talking here and I started talking in Denver and Tennessee, I never really got into it with the Colts. They never made a formal offer. I know (head coach Chuck) Pagano had said ‘We want you,’ and those kind of things, but that’s as far as it had gotten. It never got to an offer.
“At the end of the day, we parted as good as you can part. My contract ended, no release, no anything. It was just they had a direction they wanted to head and I did as well.”
Though Saturday has moved on to new challenges in Green Bay, he has a lot of fond memories of his time with the Colts. That includes a Super Bowl championship in 2007, 11 winning seasons and five Pro Bowl selections.
“Emotion I’m sure is going to be tough,” Saturday said of his return to Indianapolis. “You’ve been around the same fans, you get accustomed, the fans that sit behind you, you get to know everybody who’s around. So I’m sure it’s going to be tough. 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.”
Saturday did not look at the Packers’ schedule when he chose to sign with them. But when he later realized that it included a trip back to his home of more than a decade, it took him a while to grasp what that would mean come game time.
“Once the schedule came out and you realize it’s the fifth game, that’s when you look around and sort of go, ‘Wow, I’m going back to Indy,'” Saturday said. “‘That’s going to be a little bit different.’ That’s when it hit.”
About 70 people in the crowd for the Packers-Colts game will be guests of Saturday.
“I’ll see a ton of people and friends and family who are all down in the area,” said Saturday, who will be the subject of a video tribute Sunday. “Hopefully we’ll take care of business. That always makes you feel a little bit better.”
Saturday’s transition to the Packers has been relatively seamless. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and play-calling head coach Mike McCarthy run a similar no-huddle, up-tempo offense to what Saturday experienced for more than a decade in Indianapolis with Manning.
“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 in a wide-open scheme similar to ours,” 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.”
Green Bay’s offense has not been nearly as good through the first four games this season as it was in 2011, when the Packers led the NFL in scoring. But Rodgers does not attribute that to adjusting to Saturday and has been very happy with the play of his new center.
“Jeff’s done a great job for us,” Rodgers said. “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 that room, for the offensive line room.”
Saturday believes that he’ll only get better this season as he gets more comfortable with Green Bay’s offense.
“I’m excited about the way our team is jelling,” Saturday said. “I felt like last week (a 28-27 win over the New Orleans Saints) you really saw the team being forged a little bit. There’s moments in a season where you capture internally what your team is about. I thought we fought back from a lot of adversity and guys really laid it on the line.
“You like to see your team advancing every week, and I felt like we made a step last week, and it’s exciting to be around it.”
If the Packers are able to take another step forward offensively and defeat Saturday’s former team, Green Bay will improve to 3-2 and be closer to getting its season back on track after a rocky start.