INDIANAPOLIS –When Reggie Wayne joined the Colts in 2001, he was a budding light in a larger constellation of stars.
While never a follower, Wayne certainly now is an unquestioned leader, and his influence on the 2012 Colts is quite clear.
"He's the Pied Piper," said Bruce Arians. Whatever he says, goes. They listen and they follow. You could not put a value on what he has meant to our football team. There is no pricetag."
While Arians is a colorful quote, he does not exaggerate any point in the least.
"Reggie has done anything we've asked of him – block big guys, block little guys. He's a football player. I think he takes pride in that fact," said Arians. "He knows we wouldn't put him in harm's way to do something ridiculously tough. He's grabbed a lot of the dirty work, and that goes along with all the places we've put him to catch passes."
With 94 receptions for 1,220 yards, Wayne is on the cusp of a fourth year with 100 or more catches, a milestone that will tie Marvin Harrison's club record. Wayne already has matched Harrison in the number of seasons topping 1,000 yards.
Wayne has played on seven division champions, two conference titlists and one world champion, and he and the Colts shoot to keep Houston from clinching the AFC South on Sunday. Three wins to close the year and the Colts (9-4) can claim another division crown.
"That's your first goal, period, to win the division. Even though it's been done in the past tense, it's been done," said Wayne. "You still want to make yourself relevant. We've done some good things to this point. We have a chance to reassure ourselves of our fate. If we don't get this done this week, then we have no shot."
A win Sunday by Houston would hand the Texans their second straight division title. During Wayne's tenure, he has celebrated the clinching of AFC South titles three times in Reliant Stadium (2003, 2004, 2009), once in Jacksonville (2005), once in Oakland (2007) and twice at home (2006, 2010).
While Houston wants to clinch on Sunday, Wayne has the same professional pride of fighting for his team's betterment.
"It's a great feeling to clinch, period," said Wayne. "You don't want to be that team that lets them clinch, especially when you know how it's gone in previous years. It'll be probably a playoff atmosphere-type game. They want to crack those boxes open and get some T-shirts and hats, we know that. We have to do whatever we have to do to stop that from happening."
Indianapolis has not won at Houston since 2009, getting off to a particularly slow start last year in a 34-7 loss in the opener. Indianapolis has started slowly sometimes this season, and Wayne hopes to avoid that in this huge game.
"That's grown to be one of the toughest places to play, especially when they're controlling their game," said Wayne. "When we're playing from behind and we become one-dimensional, it gets tough. Everybody is on scholarship. Everybody's good. It'll be a good game. It should be fun."
Houston is at home for the first time in a month. It is aiming to overcome a 42-14 loss at New England. The Texans defense is among the league's best, with a solid front and an ability to cause problems. Houston's 27 takeaways tie for fourth-most in the league, and its run defense is tied for second-best.
Showing the maturity of a coach and having played under solid leaders like Arians, Chuck Pagano, Jim Caldwell and Tony Dungy, Wayne points to the need to be assignment-sharp.
"Same intensity. Don't change anything. Whatever we do, we just have to do it better," said Wayne. "We have to do it longer. They're a good team. They do a great job of applying pressure. You watch them on film, whenever you do block those guys, you have to keep them from batting balls down. (We have to) be able to get some things going.
"Hopefully, we can keep them guessing with the run game and passing game working at the same time. We know if we go out there and do the things we're capable of doing, we should be alright. If we shoot ourselves in the foot like we've done on previous road games, it will be another one of those tough games."