Well connected

Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday have been teammates since the 1999 season. Christopher Griffith

This article appears in the September 7 issue of ESPN The Magazine as the cover story.

Jeff Saturday just wanted to make the relationship work.

On a cold and wet December evening in 2000, the Indianapolis Colts were losing to the host New York Jets 20-17 with five minutes to go. As the Indianapolis offense lined up in the shotgun, Saturday, the team's first-year starting center, noticed the ball lying in a divot where someone had fallen a play earlier. But as the 40-second clock ticked away, it was too late to do anything about it, so he lowered his head and fired the ball to the franchise quarterback standing six yards away. Unfortunately, the ball got stuck in the divot and rolled back a few feet, where Colts guard Steve McKinney inadvertently kicked it forward, right into the hands of Jets linebacker Bryan Cox. Crap.

On the sideline, Saturday seethed silently as the franchise quarterback approached. Midway through his third season, Peyton Manning's reputation for being exacting and demanding preceded him. So who knew how he'd react to a mistake by some guy who went undrafted in 1998 -- the same year Manning was the No. 1 overall pick -- and who had already been waived once in his NFL career? With anger? Disgust? Cutting sarcasm? As it turned out, though, what the future Hall of Famer delivered was quiet concern. "You want to take a few snaps?" Manning asked. Saturday simply said no, that the play was his fault and he'd be fine. "Either you're gonna back down when bad things happen or you're gonna step up and accept accountability," Saturday explains now.

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