Yet matters were relatively simple: Green Bay needed a veteran, cost-effective center who could work in a complex offense with a brilliant quarterback. The Colts were starting over and didn't want to sign Saturday except for a front-office job. ("I'm sure I'll go back and talk to [owner Jim] Irsay about that someday," says Saturday.) Manning wanted Saturday in Denver, but the Packers wanted him more. The deal was done quickly, and Saturday has bought a house in Green Bay.
Every weekend of Saturday's 13 seasons in Indianapolis mocked the scouts who deemed him unfit for NFL success. (There are only three starting centers in the NFL lighter than Saturday's program weight of 295 pounds and only two shorter than his listed height of 6'2".) The fact is, his skill set is not easily measured at a pro day or the NFL combine. "Great balance, efficient footwork," says Lilja. "And did you ever shake the guy's hand? His hands are like meat hooks, and he plays with no gloves, gets in there and locks on a guy's chest and the guy is finished. Never loafs for a single play. Never makes excuses. Plays hurt." (Saturday has missed only six games in his career and none since 2009; he has never undergone major surgery, just a single right-knee scope two years ago.)
Mudd says, "He's got exceptional quickness because he was a wrestler. And he gets lower than the other guy." From Saturday's Indy days, Mudd summons up an image of Saturday's "tipping over" behemoth New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork on the Joseph Addai touchdown that sealed the Colts' trip to the Super Bowl.
But just as important is Saturday's work from the neck up. "Incredible psychological stability," says Mudd. "I believe the really good players don't rise to the occasion, as people like to say; they're just not as adversely affected by the situation. Jeff is very, very seldom out of control under the stress of the moment." (That was also apparent during the 2011 lockout, when Saturday, a member of the NFLPA executive committee, was a steadying presence during the long, often acrimonious negotiations.)
Saturday sat recently at a small conference table at Lambeau and described his job. "You stand over the ball and watch the defense coming onto the field," he says. "Is it base? Is it nickel, is it dime? Is it three down or four down? I communicate that to the guards and to Aaron. Then Aaron goes into his play call and takes command. Then you block the 325-pound guy in front of you and chase the ball down the field, pushing the tempo." The snap itself has quirks. Rodgers likes a shotgun snap with no spin (as did Manning); he wants Saturday's butt high on straight exchanges, so that Rodgers doesn't have to squat too low, which would compromise his ability to backpedal quickly.
Everything evolves by the week; it's all new. "You can't learn everything in training camp," says Saturday. Center and quarterback are present in the first meeting of the week, 7:30 on Wednesday morning at Lambeau. They trade ideas; Rodgers continues to help with translation. In the Packers' first preseason game, Saturday heard a word for the snap count that meant snap early in Indy but means snap late in Green Bay. He snapped early. It hasn't happened since.
The Packers are 1--1, after last Thursday's 23--10 win over the NFC North rival Bears. According to Profootballfocus.com, Saturday's pass blocking in two games has been nearly flawless (just one QB pressure allowed), his run blocking not so stellar. But the sample is small. A year ago Saturday ranked fifth in run blocking among all centers, for a Manning-less Colts team that went 2--14. The year before that, at 35, he ranked fourth. "To be honest, I was anxious to see if he still has it," says Sitton. "You wonder about it. But he's been finishing blocks, getting the job done."
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga says, "He's pretty good for a guy who's light in the butt."
On a recent afternoon at Lambeau, Saturday wrapped that aging, undersized butt in a brown shower towel and dispatched a series of teammates in backgammon, until at last Rodgers took a seat across from him. "You sure you want to do this?" asked Saturday. "I'm hot, you know. I'm not losing." He shook a pair of white dice in his meat-hook hands, an old man settling into a new home.