GREEN BAY – Jeff Saturday didn’t have to go to Hawaii to have some sort of retirement epiphany. The Green Bay Packers veteran center knew what he wanted to do long before he boarded his flight for Honolulu.
But as he and his wife Karen watched their three children – son Jeffrey, daughter Savannah and son Joshua – frolicking on the beach and splashing at the pool in advance of Sunday’s Pro Bowl, he realized that he was in the perfect place to call it a career.
And so, after 13 years with the Indianapolis Colts and one somewhat disappointing one with the Packers, Saturday unofficially announced his retirement during an appearance on Indianapolis sports radio, telling 1070 The Fan’s Michael Grady and Joe Staysniak on Friday that he won’t return to the Packers in 2013, even though he has another year left on the two-year deal he signed as a free agent last spring.
“I’ve had a great time,” Saturday said on The Grady and Big Joe Show Friday. “Like I told my family, it’s been a lot of fun, but I think that’s it. We’ll finish it with sunsets in Hawaii and call it a much better career than I would’ve ever anticipated.”
Selected to his sixth career Pro Bowl a few days after Packers coach Mike McCarthy – the guy who happens to be coaching the NFC squad, along with his staff – benched him in favor of backup Evan Dietrich-Smith with two games left in the regular season, the 37-year-old Saturday entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina in 1998 and wound up becoming one of the top centers of his generation.
“I prayed for one year and God gave me 14,” he told ESPN.
From the very start, Saturday had hinted that he wouldn’t play beyond 2012, even though he signed a two-year, $7.75 million contract ($1.65 million signing bonus, $1.1 million base salary for 2012 and a $1.2 million per-game roster bonus) to replace departed center Scott Wells, who left as a free agent..
“I don’t know. We’ll see how it all works out,” Saturday said in training camp, after having played in all but six of a possible 192 games over his previous 12 seasons. “If we all stay healthy – obviously that’s the key to this game – and I’ve been very fortunate and blessed with my career to be healthy … as long as I stay healthy, we’ll keep rolling with it. And when I’m not, that’s when you hang ‘em up.”
As it turned out, Saturday did stay healthy enough to play the entire season – even though he had a shoulder/neck injury that was bothering him the week of his benching – but the Packers decided it was time to promote Dietrich-Smith from being their center of the future to being their center of the present. Saturday reiterated Friday that, contrary to what NBC Sports’ Cris Collinsworth said during a TV broadcast, he did not bench himself or even agree with McCarthy’s decision in advance of the team’s Dec. 23 game against Tennessee.
“It’s one of those things. It’s never fun when those kind of things happen,” Saturday told 1070 The Fan. “Mike and I, we discussed it. I didn’t like it, but at the end of the day, it was a move he felt he needed to make for the team, for the future of the team.
“You know, it’s the way the NFL works. I don’t ever want anybody … I’m so appreciative of what I have and what I had in my career, I’m not going to let the last couple weeks put something (negative) on it. It was a great run, I had a lot of fun doing it. Things don’t always end the way you’d write them in a script or in a movie, but it’s the way it ended, and that’s just how it happens.”
The benching came on a Friday, and it made for an awkward announcement when Saturday was named to the NFC Pro Bowl roster the following Tuesday.
“How does that make you feel, right? You’re the second-best center on your team, but the second-best center in the NFC? Congratulations,” Saturday told 1070 The Fan with a laugh.
Saturday said he’s been spending the week with his family and with some of his old Colts teammates, including now-Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and current Colts Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis. His current quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, withdrew from the game with knee and ankle injuries.
“It’s fantastic. It’s been a lot of fun,” said Saturday, who has been told by Colts owner Jim Irsay that a position in the team’s front office is his for the taking. “(I’ve) just hanging out and enjoying our time and just telling our old war stories. It’s been a good time. To end it down here with a bunch of guys you played with for so many years and so many guys you respect, you couldn’t ask for it (to be) better.”
“You know what? It was awesome. You have such good times and so many great memories – especially with the Colts, with all the things you go through in building what looks like to be continuing as a great football team and one of the best organizations in the league. Those are the things I take pride in.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.