Centers to the stars

It always seemed easy for Manning and Saturday. It wasn't. Like many centers, Saturday didn't choose his path. He was a young defensive lineman at the University of North Carolina when he sized up his competition and realized that it would be a very long time before he got on the field. Luckily, the offensive line needed help. Saturday's introduction to center started something like this: Tar Heels assistant Eddie Williamson asked if he liked making calls and studying football. Saturday said yes.

Williamson handed him a ball and told him to learn how to snap it. Saturday wound up clobbering his more talented defensive opponents in practice, but went undrafted in 1998, the same year Manning went No. 1 overall. Saturday was working at an electric supply company in North Carolina when the Colts signed him in January 1999.

He would eventually make 170 starts with Manning, a league record for a quarterback-center duo.

"Once we started doing it, we just added to it week by week and then year by year," said Saturday, an ESPN analyst. "And then ultimately it became our offense. You communicated with signals, and then it was code words and then it kind of morphed as you continued to play together. Then as you see things in games, you kind of build a rapport of, 'Hey, do you remember when this happened in Baltimore in 2003 or against New England?'

"So now you're all drawing from very similar memories and you can really recall the information of what needs to be done. That's why the offense worked as well as it did. Listen, Peyton Manning is a brilliant football mind. He understands the game; he gets it and you're completely comfortable. You practice and you play the game exactly the same. So he's got to work through every scenario that he thinks you're going to face so there's no surprises come game day."

The wet-ball drill was one of these annoying Peyton preparations. They'd dunk footballs in five-gallon buckets, and the ball would get heavy and hard to handle. Saturday was wet and annoyed; Manning was trying to figure out how to hold the wet ball and adjust to its weight.

It was just another day in the life of Peyton's center. That Sunday, the Colts beat the  Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI in Miami. It rained continuously that night.

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