Jeff Saturday was Peyton Manning’s center for a dozen years.
He has a Super Bowl ring and was named to six Pro Bowls, following his playing career with a broadcasting career at ESPN.
The 41-year-old seems as dazzled by this weekend as anything that has happened to him since he graduated from Shamrock and from North Carolina.
This weekend, he joins three other former NFL standouts, as well as elite representatives of basketball, golf and tennis, in the latest class to be inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
“They kinda try and paint you a picture on the phone of what it’ll be like when you get inducted, and I’ll tell ya, I don’t think they can put into words,” Saturday said. “It’s hard to put into context how big this thing is and how many great people have come through this state from a sports perspective.
“That class I’m going in with is mind-blowing. I mean, I look around. A little round guy like myself around all these athletes, I feel pretty good about it.”
The Hall hosted a fan fest Saturday afternoon with the new class — save for Liz Murphey, who died in 2005 — on hand for pictures and autographs. The class gathered Friday night for the annual jacket ceremony, with the induction ceremony Saturday night at the Macon City Auditorium.
This year’s class includes four with college connections at Georgia (football player Garrison Hearst, golfer Laura Coble, tennis coach Manuel Diaz and administrator/golf coach Murphey), two Georgia Tech products (football player Keith Brooking and basketball player Matt Harpring), and one each from Tennessee (football and track standout Willie Gault) and North Carolina (football player Jeff Saturday).
Saturday has lost about 70 pounds from his playing days and certainly didn’t look like an NFL offensive lineman. He’s preparing for his new job as head coach at Hebron Christian, but those duties will have to wait for him to get over the weekend. He and his wife went to high school together, so there were several tables of Saturdays.
“It’s shock and awe,” Saturday said. “You walk around these halls and look at all the different things that are set up, and it’s just amazing what people have accomplished. And what you think you know and the perception you have is often blown away and very short-sighted in comparison to what people have really done and gone through.”
A few feet away from Saturday was Gault, in very good shape for a 30-year-old. Of course, he’s 56, and hides it well.
Saturday joked about Gault having eligibility left.
“I told him I’d limit his carries to three a game,” Saturday said. “But I think that’s 21 (points) for me right now.”
Gault competed in elite track events, was part of a world record 4x100 meter relay team in 1983, and would have competed in the 1980 Summer Olympics had the U.S. not boycotted the event. He was the 18th pick in the 1983 draft and played with the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Raiders.
He was among the NFL’s fastest and is among the world’s fastest in his age group. In May, he covered 100 meters in 11.30 seconds, which would be more than respectable for an active NFL player.
Gault, who said he weighs the same 176 pounds as when he retired, said the Hall offers quality lessons for younger athletes.
“It’s a great way to show some of the state’s best at what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished,” he said. “And what could be accomplished. It’s a great motivation for kids who come in here. I met a couple kids (Saturday), Valdosta State, they’re players. It shows what you can do.”
Gault is a poster child for that, what humility and work ethic can lead to.
“Natural ability is one thing,” he said. “I had a lot of guys who probably had more natural ability than I did, but they didn’t apply themselves correctly or took the wrong path. I was just very fortunate and very blessed not to, and to be able to take the right path and use the talents that God gave me, to be able to understand it, to be able to respect it, and to turn it into something that was good.”
Diaz’s induction no doubt made one of Georgia’s legends happy. Dan Magill was Georgia’s tennis head coach for 34 years, and Diaz followed him and has been in the position for 29 years.
“I think that was Coach Magill’s big dream, that I at some point would get in,” said Diaz, whose teams have won a combined 26 SEC titles and was a two-time All-American at Georgia in the early 1970s. “I know that he’s smiling somewhere up there.”
It’s also the first induction weekend for Hall president and CEO Derek Waugh, who was hired last April.
Waugh was fairly familiar with Macon, having been men’s basketball head coach at Stetson and making yearly trips to battle Mercer. He resigned in 2011 after 11 seasons, and he spent four years as athletics director at Dalton State.
He made part of last year’s ceremony for former Mercer basketball player and ex-Stetson head coach Glenn Wilkes, driving down after holding basketball senior night at Dalton State and then officiating a dodgeball competition at halftime.
Longtime Macon golf pro Ray Cutright was the recipient of the inaugural Taz Anderson Service Award. And Claude Lewis, a staple of youth sports in Warner Robins for about six decades and inventor of T-ball, was award the J.B. Hawkins Humanitarian Award.
“The Dos Equis guy has nothing on (Lewis),” Waugh said of the beer commercial. “He is the most interesting man.”
Former Atlanta Journal-Constitution sportswriter and longtime editor Jim Minter was given the Erk Russell Spirit Award.
Waugh was thrilled with the first class since he took over.
“The seven (living) inductees we have here, they’re not only good athletes, they’re great people,” he said. “To me, if God touches you on the head and says, ‘I’m going to make you a great athlete, I’m going to give you the ability to work hard enough to be a great athlete,’ you have two things you can do with that. You can be entitled and arrogant, or you can be humble and just a good person.
“I can say unequivocally all these people are great. … Frankly, they’re all just really cool.”