Colts QB Manning, C Saturday approach career-starts mark

INDIANAPOLIS -- Bill Polian always considered Jim Kelly and Kent Hull the model quarterback-center combination. Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday just perfected the blueprint.

On Sunday, the two Colts that Polian paired during his stay in Indianapolis are expected to set a new record for most career starts together (158), breaking a tie with the two Bills that Polian put together in Buffalo.

Coincidence? Hardly.

"I'm not sure how much the general public realizes what leadership roles Kent and Jeff have played, but they've convinced me that you can't have a championship team without a great center," Polian said. "Once it became pretty clear we were going to get Peyton, we wanted to use the Buffalo experience here."

Polian never deviated, and instead implemented almost an exact replica of the plan he used to build four AFC championship teams in Buffalo.

Hull signed with the Bills as a free agent out of the USFL, was an outspoken leader in the locker room and a three-time Pro Bowl selection who rarely missed a start. Saturday joined the Colts as a free agent after spending one season away from the game, emerged as the Colts' voice with the NFL Players Association and has now been to four Pro Bowls.

The similarities don't stop there.

While Kelly and Andre Reed were helping to make the no-huddle chic, they were also earning the title of greatest quarterback-receiver tandem in league history -- a title they held until Manning and his cast made the no-huddle offense a way of life.

Manning and Marvin Harrison eventually shattered the records of Kelly and Reed, and this weekend, on the same day Manning and Saturday are expected to pass Kelly and Hull, Manning and Reggie Wayne are likely to surpass Kelly and Reed for second all-time in combined yards. Manning and Wayne have 9,507 yards; Kelly and Reed are at 9,538; Manning and Harrison finished with 12,766.

Those who have followed the Bills and Colts are not surprised things turned out this way.

"Jim Kelly was a very unique personality. He was John Wayne," former Bills coach Marv Levy said. "Peyton, he's the ultra student. Jim was more of a gunslinger, a Brett Favre type. But both prepared so well they earned the confidence of their teammates just because they were so well-prepared, and that's a great quality to have -- to inspire confidence in your teammates."

It wasn't just Kelly and Manning winning over teammates.

Hull and Saturday both had to make split-second decisions along the offensive line, calling out signals while everyone else scrambled to get into position for the next play.

Few have been more proficient at it.

"Jim would be one of the first to tell you that Kent Hull was 50 percent of the quarterback process," Levy said.

Manning agrees, and, like Kelly, spent countless hours developing that close relationship with his center -- on and off the field.

Fortunately, Manning and Kelly, didn't have to make many introductory speeches.

Hull once started 121 consecutive games. Saturday had 75 consecutive starts before missing two games in 2004, and despite playing one of football's toughest positions, has missed only six starts since winning the starting job in 2000.

Manning believes that is the real measure of success for Saturday.

"I think he has missed two, three or four games, but you're talking about 40, 50 games he's played where a lot of guys wouldn't be playing with the injuries and the pain their bodies are going through," Manning said. "I've spoken with Jim Kelly and know the pride he took in that relationship with his center, and I've taken a lot of pride in mine with Jeff. That will be a special record to break."

Even Saturday sees the similarities.

When former Bills tight end Pete Metzelaars, now Saturday's offensive line coach, popped in an old Bills tape earlier this year, Saturday took one look at Hull and knew they were made from the same cloth.

"I told Pete, he (Hull) was a nasty one," Saturday said, laughing. "I think he and I would have gotten along together real good."

So what will it be like for the Colts this weekend?

It depends on the perspective.

Saturday calls it an honor, Manning refers to it as a privilege. Levy thinks the record-breaking start is well-deserved, and Polian, well, for him, it's a brief moment to reflect on what his players have been able to accomplish.

"It starts with professionalism and toughness and leadership, and all of those guys had those qualities, and they earned great respect from their teammates over the years," said Polian, owner of six AFC titles. "But it isn't just the numbers, it's wins, too. Some guys put up numbers, these guys put up numbers in the clutch week after week, and they've won a lot of games. That's what it's really all about, wins."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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