Right from the first training camp practice at Anderson University, when Pagano had his star wide receiver rest after half the workout, the coach has stuck to his plan to take it easy on the Indianapolis Colts’ team leader.
Wayne has wanted to do more. Pagano reminds of the big picture.
Shut it down, Reg. You’ve done enough. Long season ahead.
Wayne disagrees, but he understands. He said he would arrive at training camp with boxing gloves, prepared to fight his coach every step of the way to show his 35-year-old body had recovered from knee surgery that ended 2013 after seven games.
But Wayne isn’t sparring. He is upbeat and downright playful in interviews, an indication of readiness. When that playing time will be, Pagano only knows. And he’s not saying.
Wayne sat out the Colts’ 13-10 preseason-opening loss to the New York Jets Thursday. Pagano hasn’t said if No. 87 will suit up Saturday night, when the New York Giants visit Lucas Oil Stadium for preseason round two.
No worries, Wayne seems to be saying. He’ll be ready when it’s go time.
"That’s the mindset but at the same time if the big dog tells me to sit it down, I am going to sit it on down,” Wayne said Tuesday. “Like I said, I am just here to serve. I am just a servant. I am Semmi in Coming to America. I’m just here to do my job and when it’s time and the time comes, I am going to be ready. Ready to perform the way I have been performing.”
Pagano was amused when asked about Wayne saying he would make his coach “tap out” in the ring.
"Make me tap out? Good luck. Good luck,” the coach said. “He’s a football player. He isn’t a WWE wrestler. He’s watching too much TV.”
Pagano is a bulldog. He doesn’t back down to a challenge. Remember, this is the guy who came back from leukemia to finish his first season with the Colts. So when asked the follow-up on if he would hold his own against Wayne, Pagano said, “Anybody here.”
That’s big dog talk, indeed.
“I may not win it but we’re going down swinging,” Pagano said. “Dad (Sam) always said growing up if you’re getting picked on by bullies, who do you go after? You go after the biggest, baddest one and you hit him right here on the button. You smash that nose and you get that nose bleeding and those eyes watering and he goes down, guess what happens to the rest of the gang? They’re gone, I got myself out of that pickle. Sometimes that may work, sometimes it may not, but that’s how you’ve got to start. Boy, we’ve gotten so far away from what we were talking about (laughs).”
Wayne is understandably motivated, at his advanced NFL age, to prove he can be the player that had made six Pro Bowls and caught 1,006 passes for 13,566 yards and 80 TDs in a stellar 14-year career. He’s 97 catches and 1,015 yards away from breaking Marvin Harrison’s team records.
But this is about more than setting a new standard. He’s coming off the first serious injury of his career. And the Colts, particularly quarterback Andrew Luck, will need him strong and healthy to make a Super Bowl run. A healthy Wayne with emerging star T.Y. Hilton and free-agent addition Hakeem Nicks gives Luck the best set of receivers he’s had. Not to mention rookie Donte Moncrief and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
Wayne just wants to do his part and be a team leader, the role he inherited when Peyton Manning was released in March of 2012. It’s also the last year on his contract. A strong season might earn him another deal.
Pagano turned interviewer and posed a question to Wayne: “When it was taken away from you, how much did you miss it?”
"It puts everything into perspective, it really makes you think about going out there and treating it like it could be your last one,” Wayne said. “One thing it did, it made me understand and respect it even more. When you’re out there on a daily basis, you always think I am going to be alright, I am going to be here ‘X’ amount of time. But then when it’s pulled from right under your feet, it’s humbling.
"Last year was rough for me, it really was. I took that time to get back right and at the same time it made me respect it, it made me understand it, it made me even hungrier to take each day that I’m out here practicing with my teammates. It made me want to be out there even more because you never know, so you have to treat it as such."
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.