A very special group of people gathered this morning in Downtown Buffalo for the 12th annual Athletes in Action Call to Courage Awards Breakfast. Hosted every year by former Bills quarterback and engineer of the "Greatest Comeback" game, Frank Reich, the event honors both a retired NFL player and members of the community for their outstanding and faith-based character, commitment, and leadership on and off the field. In the 20th anniversary year of that "Greatest Comeback" in the history of the NFL, a handful of standout players in that memorable win were also on hand to reflect on the game in a candid panel discussion. Bills kicker Rian Lindell and his wife Johna were the honorary chairmen.
This year's NFL recipient of the Call to Courage Award was former Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday. Though his football accomplishments are abundant with 6 Pro Bowls, 2 first-team All Pro nominations, and a Super Bowl win with the Colts to name a few, it was his off the field impact that earned him this award. He spoke on his struggle to get into the league after not being drafted and finding work at an electrical supply company. His big break came a year later when his college roommate suggested to then Colts GM Bill Polian that he should give Saturday a try at making the team as Peyton Manning's protector at center. Manning gave a special video message at the breakfast calling Saturday an incredibly deserving recipient of the award and a role model in the locker room.
"The NFL saved my life," said Saturday, focusing on how his trust in God and search for faith made him a the person he is today and carried him on his journey in the league and thereafter.
"But it's not just about football," he said. "It's about a platform for something greater. It's about the relationships you have, laughing about the times you messed up and seeing how far you've come. That's what it's all about."
Also honored at the breakfast were Jacob Caldwell, the recipient of the High School Call to Courage Award for his play and character on the Frewsburg High School football team, and retired U.S. Army Major Anthony Smith. Major Smith was wounded so badly in an attack during his 2004 deployment to Iraq that he was pronounced dead. After coming out of a 62-day coma without part of his arm, hip, and with a number of other disabilities, he made an inspirational recovery that lead him to compete in various triathlons and earn his black belt in Tae Kwon Doe, which he now teaches to at-risk youth.
In the panel discussion of the "Greatest Comeback" game, moderated by Bills play-by-play announcer John Murphy, former Buffalo Bills greats Andre Reed, Kenneth Davis and Steve Tasker, joined Frank Reich to reflect on that historic day in Bills and NFL history. Look for more on that candid panel discussion in this week's featured Throwback Thursday story.