Thoughts drift back to 2001, when an Indianapolis Colts rookie wide receiver took out his frustrations on a Madden video game set up in Edgerrin James’ locker.
Reggie Wayne wasn’t in the mood to talk. He was agitated about being overlooked on the field, getting open on seam routes and not seeing the football thrown his way.
It’s an awkward moment to violate the work space of an NFL player. It was my first full-time year on the beat, so let’s just say I was a bit ignorant.
I told him to keep getting open and Peyton Manning would get him the ball. I can’t remember his response. Suffice to say, at that moment, he wasn’t looking for a pick-me-up from some reporter. But a few years later, after he had established himself as a rising NFL star, we laughed about that conversation.
It’s not a journalist’s job to offer encouragement, but “Reg” was a likable guy from day one. I’ve always tried to cultivate relationships with players in their rookie years, before they become stars and aren’t always so available.
He was without question the most enjoyable interview in his 14 seasons spent in that locker room. Fridays were his day to hold court with the media. We looked forward to hearing from “Weezy,” a nickname he earned for being able to imitate the gravelly voice of the wife from “The Jeffersons” TV sitcom.
That made last Friday, ironically, such a difficult day, not just for him, teammates, the Colts organization, a truly Blue Nation of fans but also for sentimental saps such as myself who have considered it a privilege to watch him play.
The Colts weren’t going to re-sign Reggie Wayne.
That doesn’t qualify as just another email news release. That’s why I’ve taken a couple of days to accept it, collect my thoughts, then tap the keys as a cathartic endeavor if nothing else.
Yeah, it’s tough to turn the page. I’ll admit it. Not ashamed of it. I’ve always thought it important to be in touch with the emotions of this game, be it the players’, the fans’ or my own.
In the interest of full disclosure, the head nodded upon receiving the news. I knew this could happen. Hoped it wouldn’t. You don’t want a storied chapter in Colts history to end, even if No. 87 wasn’t himself the past two seasons because of injuries.
The Colts made a business decision. Reg wanted to play one more year and then retire, but the organization decided it was time to move on. Owner Jim Irsay flew to Florida to give him the bad news.
Ideally, both sides would agree and Reg would come back to Indy for a retirement press conference. There should be some sort of dignified send-off, and perhaps there still will be when he’s ready to retire.
But he doesn’t want his career to end this way. It was difficult to watch him catch only one 12-yard pass in three playoff games, to be ignored again, but this time to not be targeted as he struggled to get open because a damaged 36-year-old body was holding him back.
It makes sense he would want to get that torn left triceps surgically repaired and finish a 15th season in style, making plays and giving it everything he’s got, playing at the level we’ve expected. Then he could say farewell.
As much as others will disagree with the Colts about this decision, and vent that there had to be a more honorable way to end this, there really isn’t an easy way. Not with Reg still wanting to play. That’s an impasse.
Part of me kind of anticipated it because I remember Irsay saying after Marvin Harrison was gone that the Colts went one year too long with No. 88. That training camp interview with the owner resonated on Friday. Irsay wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice, regardless of how difficult the decision.
So it’s one of those heart versus head situations. The heart wants to see Reg finish on his own terms. The head reminds that it doesn’t usually work out that way, and there’s enough statistical evidence combined with the reality that Reg is going to be 37 next November to understand why the Colts won’t bring him back.
We don’t have to like it, this blunt reality of the business, but accept it we must.
To do this, I looked through old interviews and video clips. In case anyone missed the video tribute, here it is.
The first batch of rediscovered quotes were from this past training camp at Anderson University. Wayne spoke of how hard it was to cope with not playing after he suffered a season-ending torn ACL in the seventh game of the 2013 season.
“One thing it did, it made me understand and respect it even more,” he said of the NFL. “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.”
Yeah, those words sure resonate now.
So did his postgame comments after he set franchise records for appearing in his 209th game and 142nd career win in a 17-10 victory over the Houston Texans on Dec. 14 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“These fans have been outstanding, they’re the best,” he said. “Since day one, the city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana, they’ve been the best when it comes to me. I have zero negative to say anything about them, they’ve been outstanding.
“I appreciate them and and I just want to do everything I can to keep them having a great time, cheering for the Colts and not just myself, but these guys in the locker room as well. We just want to give it everything we have and whenever they’re out there, being that 12th man as they always do, it’s great. It goes bigger than us, so I appreciate everything they’ve done for me.”
He provided so many memorable moments, too many to mention. We won’t forget that comeback win against Green Bay in 2012, after head coach Chuck Pagano had been diagnosed with leukemia. An inspired Reg caught 13 passes for a career-high 212 yards. Of course he delivered the game-winning touchdown grab, fending off tacklers and diving to get that ball to the goal line.
“Reg-gie! Reg-gie! Reg-gie!” never sounded louder at Lucas Oil Stadium.
We recall so many sick catches, the one-handed eye-openers, the body control when going out of bounds or somehow getting both feet down in the back of the end zone, the smooth way in which he made it look easy. The dude was “ballin’,” as Edge always liked to say.
Hopefully Reg ends up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day. His 1,070 career receptions rank seventh in NFL history, his 14,345 receiving yards slot him eighth all-time. He’s just 32 catches and 235 yards behind Harrison, who should get enshrined in Canton, Ohio, next year.
I remember well when Reg made his first of six Pro Bowls in 2006. I was expected to get something from him, but it was a Tuesday, the players’ day off. Reg was doing an autograph signing on the Northside.
After waiting in line like everyone else, it was my turn. I begged for two minutes after he was finished. He laughed and asked what I could get out of just two minutes. I just needed something fresh about him making his first Pro Bowl. He obliged a few minutes later.
“I was on my way here,” he said of the two-hour signing. A Colts employee called him. He got a text message from Edge in Arizona: “Did you get in?” Then Reg’s cell went “haywire.”
He didn’t think he was going to make the Pro Bowl. He was a reserve, same as Harrison.
“You expect the worst,” he said. “If I don’t get in, it doesn’t surprise me. The last couple years, they’ve kind of overlooked me, so it really wasn’t a big thing to me.
“I’m excited, man. As I always told myself, if I can make the Pro Bowl then I think this team’s shot at making the Super Bowl is high. It’s real high. Hopefully what I believe is coming true and we can make it to the Super Bowl.”
When I checked my recorder, the interview lasted two minutes exactly, not a second more or less.
The Colts went on to win Super Bowl XLI.
Years later, Reg joked about upcoming Pro Bowl selections. He hoped he couldn’t go because he’d be busy with another Super Bowl. But if the team didn’t make it and he had to settle for going to Hawaii, then it would be “mai-tais on me.”
Another memorable chat was earlier that same year during training camp at Rose-Hulman, another one-on-one for a story on the most important play a player remembered from his career. Everybody else mentioned touchdowns, sacks, tackles, turnovers, you name it.
Not Reg. He said failing to catch a second-down pass in the end zone that was tipped by the Pittsburgh defender in the Colts’ demoralizing AFC Divisional playoff loss to the Steelers the previous January. He got a hand on it, so he expected to catch it. The Colts could have won if he had scored, he said.
Why he would say that? Because it was the plays he didn’t make that stuck with him the most. Those were his motivation.
It was the best quote in that story.
As fate would have it, after Reg played what proved to be his final game in a Colts uniform on Jan. 18 in Foxborugh, Mass., a humbling 45-7 loss to the rival New England Patriots in the AFC title game, we walked out of the locker room together.
He spoke of needing to get healthy, beginning with surgery. I wished him well and remember saying I didn’t think he was done, nobody could tell me otherwise, that I was convinced he still had something left.
Maybe I was wrong, the head realizes now. But the heart will always want to hear Reggie Wayne on Fridays and see him play on Sundays.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.