INDIANAPOLIS – When the final strains of The Who’s ‘We Won’t Get Fooled Again’ reverberate in Lucas Oil Stadium,
Whether he is introduced with the offense or watches his defensive teammates have that moment, Wayne hotfoots it to the northeast corner of the playing field to urge on his fans. Many of those fans hold aloft a sign bearing, appropriately and succinctly, “Reggie.”
He then heads to the northwest corner to incite more followers. Those seconds are ritualistic and compelling. Those two spots are “Wayne’s World.”
When Wayne made that trek last December at the final home game against Houston, many wondered if it would be for the last time. Wayne wondered, too. When he snared the game-winning pass in a last-minute 19-16 victory, many, including Wayne, savored the moment in case it were the last one.
It was not. Wayne re-signed with the Colts this past off-season and his brilliant career continues as the club has reloaded and is taking aim on 2012 opponents.
Wayne is playing very well in his 12th season of wearing the Horseshoe. Just as that logo is as iconic as any in American sports, Wayne holds such a place of endearment with Colts fans, particularly those in Indianapolis.
The warm spot in local sporting hearts is not solely Wayne’s. Others like Reggie Miller and Peyton Manning have resided there. It is something General Manager Ryan Grigson noticed last December before joining the Colts. He saw the crowd’s reaction to Wayne after the touchdown catch to beat Houston.
“I remember watching the NFL Network long before I became a Colt and just by chance it was the last home game of the year against the Texans,” Grigson said recently. “While Reggie was talking about the uncertainty (of his future) the fans in the background, I could hear (them) yelling, ‘Reggie, Reggie.’ I just thought, ‘Wow,’ they love this guy.’ I know how much the fan base loves him.”
Wayne walked into the Colts’ world off the Miami Hurricane campus in 2001. He was a top-round draft pick who was joining a galaxy of offensive talent that included Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Marcus Pollard, Ken Dilger and an offensive line that would pave the way for the Colts to record more than 5,000 net yards and 400 points almost annually for a decade to come.
He contributed early but not as often as his veteran teammates, but that would change as Wayne developed.
Wayne’s numbers grew with his fluency in the offense. He became only the third NFL player ever to increase reception totals during the first seven seasons of a career. From 2001-07, his reception total swelled: 27-49-68-77-83-86-104.
The numerical sequence sounded like a lottery ticket, and the Colts were the big winners.
Wayne became a vital component to victories. As the club peeled off winning starts of 5-0, 7-0, 9-0, 13-0 and 14-0, Wayne’s influence grew more in the attack.
While Wayne joined Hall-of-Famer Raymond Berry as a player who increased his reception totals for seven straight years, he joined Marvin Harrison as the only NFL players ever to record 10,000 reception yards from a single quarterback – Manning.
Harrison had 953 receptions for 12,766 yards and 112 touchdowns from Manning. Wayne emerged with 779 receptions for 10,602 yards and 67 touchdowns from Manning.
Wayne helped the Colts produce the NFL’s winningest decade, 115 regular-season victories from 2000-09. He was a figure who helped the Colts win a league-record 23 straight games from 2008-09. He toiled during the decade as the club tied New England for the NFL’s best 100-game won-loss record (81-19), and he played on numerous division champions, two AFC champions and one world champion.
Wayne scored the club’s first touchdown in Super Bowl XLI on a 53-yard pass from Manning, cutting through the Chicago defense and falling rain to perform a dramatic fist-pump that warmed Colts fans.
He rejoiced with northwest corner patrons in 2009 when his one-yard scoring reception with 13 seconds left capped a 17-point comeback in a 35-34 win over New England. That comeback was the 18th win in the string that eventually set the NFL mark.
And it was that special moment from last year’s win over Houston that further showed the special relationship Wayne has with Colts fans.
“It’s unbelievable, man,” said Wayne of Indianapolis fans. “I just know the fans here open their arms to everyone who goes out and plays hard for the city. I do know the extra love that Reggie Miller and Peyton Manning received throughout the years. It’s big and to be in with the same thing, it’s huge. It just motivates me even more to go out and play hard for them, win games and keep them excited.
“I understand how much they love Colts football. You just want to do everything you can to keep them excited. It’s a good feeling.”
Local fans have seen heroes move on. Wayne has stayed. He is helping a new cast of characters find their way on the local landscape. Wayne knows he was the new kid at one point. Now, he is an elder.
It is a role Wayne likes, and he feels a sense of duty to bring along teammates in the way he benefited.
“I do. I guess it comes with the territory,” said Wayne. “I feel like when you have such a young team, they’re going to look up to you. They’re going to ask questions. They’re going to figure something out to see what the key is to a long, successful career or longevity.
“You do feel like it’s a duty, but it’s a duty you don’t mind. It’s something you embrace and enjoy sharing with the younger guys. It’s good. Even though you’re one of the old heads in the locker room, you’re appreciative and you understand you were there (a young player). To give them a couple of words here and there, it’s pretty cool.”
Wayne only has known hard work. It is the equation to success, an equation with which he never tampers.
When the team made a regime change this year and brought in Head Coach Chuck Pagano, Wayne made the commitment to stay in Indianapolis to help a coaching mentor from his Miami days and to become fluent once again with a new offense.
Wayne worked through the spring and training camp in an offense where he would move into different positions. Bruce Arians, the offensive coordinator and now interim leader for Pagano, noted the changes for Wayne and what he appreciates from the 12-year veteran.
“Just his total leadership,” said Arians. “He had to be a rookie (again). He played on the left side with his left foot back for 10 years. To go in motion, playing the slot, playing the right side, run from stacks, all the things we’re asking him to do was all new for him. He’ll be the first to tell you that for the first few weeks, ‘My right foot doesn’t like doing that.’ So it was hard for him and he has embraced it. When you see a veteran guy embrace a challenge, a rookie, he’s got no choice but to follow this guy.
“Ask Reggie to block, he blocks. He does whatever it takes for his football team to win, but he also grabs those young guys, teaches them how to prepare on and off the field.”
“He’s the ultimate professional. He does all the little things right. The minor things he does that make you a good professional, they turn into major things on the field on Sunday,” said Mathis. “He makes sure he doesn’t leave any stone unturned. He works in practice, catches balls, simulates what happens in game so when it happens, his success is not by accident. All the plays he makes, his amazing catches, it’s no accident. He works at it.”
The success is due to Wayne’s integrity, and Mathis knows it is a reason why Wayne has grown into the hearts of fans.
“He’s a homegrown guy. He’s matured before everyone’s eyes, and he’s the epitome of what Colts football is all about,” said Mathis. “He’s worked hard. He’s been to the top. He’s experienced the lows, and we’re bouncing back.
“He’s the leader of the team, one of the elder statesmen. Leading by example is the key thing of being a leader, and he does that.”
Wayne is 10 games into the season. His numbers this year surpass what he has done before. He has three or more receptions in 58 straight games, tying Cris Carter for the NFL record. Should he do so Sunday, it will be another numerical milestone in a career whose greatness extends far past the numbers.
Wayne is pleased, but not finished. Hopefully, not by a long shot.
“It has, but it’s not done yet,” said of his career. “Up until this point, it’s been great. How many people have played 12 years and 12 years in the same place? It’s been great. I’m truly blessed. I’m excited. I’m happy, and let’s see how long I can stretch this thing out.”