Jeffrey Bryant Saturday ’97
Some folks might think being known as “the man who saved football” would be sufficient accomplishment to retire on. Jeff Saturday ’97, whom NFL players and team owners alike credit with avoiding a league lockout in the 2011 season, forgot to mention it when asked about his career highlights.
Instead, he cited receiving the Ed Block Courage Award from the NFL in 2008, a humanitarian award that considers the whole man and his achievements on and off the field.
Jeff’s trophy case, if he were to display such honors, would include ESPN’s Non-Quarterback, Non-Running Back NFL MVP in 2006; NFL Lineman of the Year in 2007; NFL record, with Peyton Manning, for the Center With the Most Starts With the Same Quarterback (Manning gave him the Most Valuable Butt Award); his Super Bowl Championship ring; and something from the six times he has been chosen to play in the Pro Bowl. Someday he’ll likely be in the NFL Hall of Fame.
Those awards would go head to head with his service honors: the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, the Chaucies Place Kids Service Award, the Sagamore of the Wabash Award (Indiana’s Order of the Long Leaf Pine) and nominee for the Colts’ Man of the Year. The City of Indianapolis named a day for him. He is spokesman for Riley Hospital for Children’s Miracle Ride, honorary chair of the People’s Burn Foundation and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and on the boards of Kids’ Voice of Indiana and the Sharon Bassett Foundation. He hosts Super Bowl for Saturday’s Kids, and he joins children at a summer camp for burn victims.
“My wife and I have always felt that giving back is the main priority of why we are here,” Jeff said. “We should do something with the lives we’ve been blessed with.”
Born and raised in Atlanta, Jeff hankered after a football powerhouse in the SEC, but his mom pushed for a school with strong academics, telling him, “You’re only one injury away from never playing this game again; you have to rely on your education.”
At UNC, he played in the starting lineup on teams that went 28-9 over four years, coached by Mack Brown. He was All-Conference by his sophomore year, an Academic All-ACC and twice recognized as first-team All-ACC. As his teammates pointed out, every player in the class of ’97 behaved themselves — they all graduated — and several of them went on to play professionally. Jeff’s teammates attribute much of their success to him, who as captain served as a role model and motivator, taking guys aside when they needed a reminder to reset their priorities.
But when the draft picks were called, Jeff didn’t get a contract. He moved past his disappointment, and as he had learned to do all those years on the gridiron, he assessed where he was and where he had to go, and he called another play. He put his business degree to work and took a job with Raleigh Electrical Supply.
And we might now be lauding his success in business had it not been for his teammate Nate Hobgood-Chittick ’98, who was a defensive tackle with the Indianapolis Colts and urged Colts president Bill Polian to take a look at Jeff. Polian flew Jeff in for a workout and signed him on the spot for the next year. When Jeff’s lease on his apartment in Indianapolis was up, he asked Polian whether he should renew it. Polian told him to renew it for another 14 years.
Jeff played his final year with the Green Bay Packers, narrowly missing another trip to the Super Bowl last year. After his sixth appearance in the Pro Bowl in January, he announced his retirement. Then he went back to Indianapolis. First he did a ceremonial signing with the Colts, so he could retire from that team. Then he went right back to work for them, taking a job in the front office.
And from time to time, he’ll stop by the locker room at Kenan Stadium and inspire the team.
As he said, “It means a lot to me to say I’m a Tar Heel.”