Wilson's Word: Thank you, Reggie Wayne

Wide receiver will play in his 209th regular-season game Sunday, a Colts record. But throw out records, clutch plays, statistics, honors. Reggie Wayne has been a whole lot of fun.

Reggie Wayne says he isn’t thinking about Sunday possibly being his last regular-season home game for the Indianapolis Colts.

Just like any other game, the wide receiver will run to the Northeast Corner of Lucas Oil Stadium to acknowledge fans there, a pregame tradition he started in the early 2000s.

He’ll be focused on trying help the Colts (9-4) defeat the Houston Texans (7-6) so his team can clinch a second consecutive AFC South Division title.

And the fact that this will be his 209th regular-season game in blue and white, that he will be first in franchise history in games played, he says that is also secondary in his thoughts.

But when Reg speaks about his career and discusses how times have changed in 14 seasons and he shares his unique perspective on life in the NFL, there is a finality in his voice. He knows his time will soon be at an end, although that’s something else he’s not talking about too much.

“I still think I can do a lot of stuff,” he said Friday. “Until I feel like I can’t win one-on-one coverage and things like that, I’m going to keep playing. That’s just the way I am.”

Perhaps that means Wayne could play another season, if his body heals from knee, elbow and torn triceps injuries and he can come back stronger for one more year. That is, if the Colts are willing to re-sign him. Wayne has made it clear he’s a “Colt for life.” He won’t play anywhere else.

If that doesn’t work out, Wayne has also acknowledged it might be time to retire.

He recently spoke of “family decisions,” about if he needs to spend more time with his three young children. The thought of No. 87 calling it a career is something none of us want to think about. Yeah, he’s been battling through injuries. The recent spate of drops have been disappointing to see from someone who has been so sure-handed throughout his career.

We accept that nobody plays forever, but watching Wayne all these years, it’s like you don’t want to foresee following this team without him. It goes beyond the statistics, 1,061 receptions for 14,207 yards and 82 TDs. Nobody has been more fun to cover in 16 years on the beat.

I remember a young Wayne, sitting in front of Edgerrin James’ locker, playing video games on Edge’s TV. Wayne was trying to take his mind off his troubles, when he wasn’t getting the ball as much as he expected. He was getting open, but Peyton Manning was throwing to others, typically Marvin Harrison.

Then Wayne came into his own, he started putting up better numbers than Harrison, and he became the Colts’ No. 1 target. Never one for talking too loud, he was more of a leader by example back then. But when he spoke, others listened.

At training camp one year, I was asking players about their most memorable play. They said touchdowns, tackles, interceptions. Not Wayne. He brought up not catching a late second-down pass in the end zone against Pittsburgh in the AFC Divisional playoff loss at the RCA Dome. I reminded that Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor had tipped the pass before it got to him. That didn’t matter. He was able to get a hand on it. He expected himself to make any catch when he could get a hand on the ball.

The Colts lost that game, 21-18, on Jan. 15, 2006. It’s the most excruciating loss I’ve ever witnessed.

Why would Wayne bring that up? He said it was easy to say a memorable play made, as his teammates did. What drove him were the plays he didn’t make.

Admiration for a player’s talent is one thing. Appreciating a player’s character is even more worthwhile.

Wayne became more of a vocal leader after Manning’s departure in March of 2012. This team has since belonged to him and Robert Mathis. They took it upon themselves to help their teammates. They became leaders in every sense of the word.

After the cameras and most of the reporters departed from Wayne’s locker Friday afternoon, a few of us hung around to chat a little more. And Wayne, always one of the Colts’ best quotes, was happy to oblige.

He spoke of how it was important to help his teammates because when he was finished, what good would his knowledge be then?

“I just want to go out there and teach and give ‘em as much as I possibly can and hopefully help ‘em out,” he said.

What did he learn from playing with Harrison?

“What didn’t I learn?” he said. “I learned from Marvin, the harder you practice the easier the games are.”

Harrison used to say, “They pay you to practice. The games are for free.” Wayne repeated that again. He hasn’t forgotten.

“I remember coming in and just watching him take every rep. I was like, ‘Alright, that’s how him and Peyton get on the same page in the blink of an eye, knowing what each other is doing.’ Every time Marvin was on the practice field, he was 100 mph.”

He admits of Harrison, “There was a lot of stuff he did that I couldn’t do.”

On and off the field.

“Ain’t too many guys that can just go out and eat McDonald’s and run all day,” Wayne said of No. 88.

Harrison once set up a Tastykake display loaded with sweets next to his locker.

“And then he would go over there and go in the little pod and do his body fat, and it wouldn’t register,” Wayne said. “It would say negative one. I’m like, ‘Negative one, you’re dehydrated or something.’ That’s just the kind of dude he was.”

Wayne was asked if it was difficult to pass the torch to younger players, like him with T.Y. Hilton.

“To me, in my mind, T.Y. is the Marv, you know what I mean?” he said. “Alright, so I can get one-on-one coverage again. So it was a little easier for me because I’ve been down that road before. At the end of the day, I do know I’m not 22 years old. That’s just the way the game goes.”

When Wayne finally had more receptions than Harrison in 2005, 83 to 82, we got the sense that it upset Harrison.

“Marv, probably so,” Wayne said. “Only reason why I wasn’t pissed off (in 2009) when me and Dallas Clark had 100 catches is because Dallas is a good friend of mine. We were really good friends. If you’re a good buddy of mine, I don’t have a problem with it.”

Receivers like to joke about the old adage, “No play is the right play if it’s a run.” They want to produce as much as possible. But over time, Wayne understood how everything fit together, be it run versus pass, who got touches when and why, and the bottom line was do whatever it takes to win.

“Whatever they need me to do,” he said. “If they need me to go block J.J. Watt, I’ll figure it out. I’ll figure something out.”

Laughs all around, one more time. Reggie Wayne has been too much fun.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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