The 14th-year wide receiver admits he tries to put everything into each game as if it were his last, but that doesn’t mean he’s looking at the end of his great career.
Wayne, 36, has said he will only be a Colt, and his contract expires after this season, so there’s uncertainty about his future. He’s hinted at retirement, suggesting it could soon be time to make “family decisions” to spend more time with his three children. But he’s also said he feels good enough to continue playing.
What matters now, this week specifically, is that the team leader makes sure the Colts (11-5) are ready for Sunday’s AFC Wild Card playoff visit from the Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1). He was one of the veterans who called a players-only meeting after a 42-7 loss at Dallas on Dec. 21.
Wayne is convinced the Colts have everything needed to make a Super Bowl run. Skeptics will snicker at such confidence, considering the team lost to the best teams on its schedule, including lopsided setbacks to the Cowboys, New England and Pittsburgh.
Asked if he makes the most out of every game, Wayne said Friday, “You better. You better make the most out of every practice also.”
This will be Wayne’s 19th career playoff game. He’s played in 211 regular-season games and will one day be added to the Colts’ Ring of Honor and considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“But I don’t look at it like this could be my last one,” he said. “I go into each game, each practice in that moment. It it’s practice, I’m going to go out there and practice and I”m going to treat this practice like it’s a game day. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.
“When I get in that cold tub, I’m going to be exhausted. When it’s a game, if a game’s over and I get home and I’m not tired, then it’s a problem. I think that’s something that we all said to each other in the locker room. Let’s live in this moment. Let’s not worry about what goes on afterwards, what can happen later. Just live in this moment, enjoy it, embrace it and get the best out of it.”
The Colts have won 11 regular-season games in three consecutive years since general manager Ryan Grigson, head coach Chuck Pagano and quarterback Andrew Luck, among others, arrived. They lost at Baltimore in the first round of the playoffs in the 2012 postseason, then won a game and lost at New England last postseason. Pagano has talked about this team taking the next step.
Wayne was asked if he has shared with teammates how the Colts shook off three division losses in December in 2006 and went on a playoff run to win Super Bowl XLI.
“Yeah, to a certain extent because I would never compare the teams but what I would compare is the opportunity,” he said. “When we talk to them, we talk about the ending of 2006 and that’s feeling that confetti hit your skin and how it’s nothing like that feeling ever.
“In my opinion, I feel like we’ve got what it takes to get that feeling again and hopefully guys buy into it and we’ll go out swinging.”
Wayne definitely will, whether it’s his final game or not. He got a day of rest Friday from practice, which meant treatment for his aching body. He still had a sleeve on his left arm, a protective measure for a torn triceps.
He exited the regular-season finale at Tennessee with a groin injury after a career-long 80-yard reception in the second quarter. But there wasn’t any doubt in his mind that he would be ready for the playoffs.
“Nah, man,” he said. “It’s playoff time, everybody’s playing hurt. I’ve been hurt all year. So I’m going to fight through my tricep and then I’m going to let a groin keep me out? Nah, it don’t work like that.
“This is the time where big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. This is what we live for.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.