GREEN BAY, Wis. — Hard as it is to believe, Jeff Saturday needs a visitor's guide to Indianapolis.
Sure, he can give his Green Bay Packers teammates a list of restaurants to rival Zagat's after spending the first 13 seasons of his NFL career with the Colts. Have everyone over to his house if he wants. And he knows the way to Lucas Oil Stadium so well he could probably drive the team bus.
Once the Packers arrive for Sunday's game, however, Saturday is going to need some help.
Saturday spent his entire career up until this season with the Colts, as much a piece of the team fabric as that guy Peyton. Fans adored him — see fans wearing any other center's jersey? — and Colts owner Jim Irsay has said he'd like Saturday to have a role with the franchise after he retires.
That doesn't mean Sunday's homecoming will be bitter or uncomfortable, however, like when Brett Favre came back to Lambeau.
It was clear as soon as the Colts drew the No. 1 draft pick that big changes were coming, and Saturday, a free-agent-to-be, was one of many veterans let go as the team began rebuilding under Andrew Luck. Peyton Manning is now in Denver, and emerging receiver Pierre Garcon is in Washington. Defensive captains Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt were cut, along with running back Joseph Addai and tight end Dallas Clark.
New coach Chuck Pagano actually expressed interest in keeping Saturday, but the talks didn't go very far.
"At the end of the day, we parted as good as you can part," Saturday said. "My contract ended, there was no release."
In addition to Green Bay, Saturday fielded offers from Tennessee and the Broncos. Denver was tempting, because it would have meant a reunion with his old buddy, Manning. But Saturday and his wife were concerned their children were going to have trouble adjusting wherever they went after so many years in Indianapolis, and Green Bay seemed as if it would make for the easiest transition. It was still in the Midwest, still close to their permanent home in Indianapolis.
Turns out, they needn't have worried.
"They all love it here," Saturday said. "All three kids, they love the neighborhood, they love the Packers. The transition went much better than I anticipated."
Better, even, than his.
Green Bay's biggest selling point was that it had experienced guards in T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton. The Packers play a different system than the Colts did, and there's comfort in playing between guys who know what's coming and who can help him out if there's something he doesn't know.
Not that there's much of that.
"Jeff's done a great job for us," Aaron 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."
Though the line has had its share of problems — Rodgers has been sacked an NFL-worst 16 times, and Green Bay's running game is third worst in the NFC at 84.3 yards a game — it is showing signs of progress. Rodgers left the New Orleans game unscathed, and Cedric Benson had 84 yards on 18 carries.
"I thought it was a good opportunity here and I still feel that way," Saturday said. "I'm excited with the way the team has been gelling. ... I like to see a team advancing every week."
Even if it's at the expense of the Colts.
Saturday is sure to get a rousing welcome Sunday. His own cheering section will be about 70 strong (the Colts helped him line up extra tickets), and Indianapolis traditionally welcomes back former players with a video of their highlights with the Colts.
But no matter how welcoming the Colts and their fans are, Saturday will still be in somebody else's home.
"There's a new general manager, new coaching staff, mostly new players. It's not the same Colts. But it's the horseshoe. It's the blue. It's the same things you rallied around for so many years," he said. "I'm sure it's going to be tough. But you have to put it aside and take it for the job that it is."
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