- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - At age 36, Reggie Wayne could revel in the spoils of his success.

A poster-sized photo of the Colts’ receiver hangs outside the front entrance of Lucas Oil Stadium. The hometown fans regularly serenade him with chants of “Reg-gie, Reg-gie.” He’s a respected leader and mentor in the locker room and a pillar in the community of his adopted hometown.

He also knows this is no time for a victory lap — not with a playoff spot and two of the Colts’ most revered records on the line Sunday.

“I put my hard hat on and go to work,” Wayne said. “I just want to be here with my teammates. Being available is something I’ve always taken pride in.”

Few NFL players have stuck around longer or been more consistent over 14 seasons than Wayne.

He goes into this week tied with Peyton Manning for most games played (208) and most wins (141) in franchise history. A victory over Houston (7-6) would break the ties and allow Wayne to celebrate his ninth division title.

Those who know Wayne aren’t surprised by his resume — 1,061 receptions, seventh in league history; 14,207 yards, eighth in NFL history; 82 TD receptions, tied for 22nd in league history; 82 consecutive games with three catches or more, an NFL record; six Pro Bowl appearances; two AFC championships and one Super Bowl ring.

Former Colts general manager Bill Polian is already lobbying for Wayne’s Hall of Fame candidacy.

The numbers only provide a small glimpse into the everyday impact Wayne makes, though.

“I think what’s really helpful about having a guy like Reggie in the locker room is that he takes such a big burden off the other guys,” backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “He’s the guy people want to talk to after a bad game, he’s the guy the marketing department goes to, he’s the guy they ask to do community outreach, he’s the guy who can walk down to the coach’s office or the GM’s office and say, ‘Hey, something’s out of balance in the locker room,’ and that allows the younger guys to just play football.”

Sure, Wayne has some fun.

His grand entrances at training camp have become the stuff of legend — driving a dump truck, showing up in a military convoy, riding on a helicopter with a recovering hospital patient. It’s not just show. There’s always a deeper message, like this summer when he arrived in an IndyCar — demonstrating he had his wheels back after tearing the ACL in his right knee.

But Polian never doubted Wayne skills or personality would help him excel.

It was one of the reasons Polian defied conventional wisdom in the 2001 draft, taking Wayne instead of a defensive player.

The initial plan, Polian explained, was to choose a defensive tackle with the 22nd overall pick. When the Colts’ turn came, the player they coveted was gone. With no consensus among the coaches and scouts about who to take, Polian dealt the pick to the Giants who chose cornerback Will Allen. Polian then took Wayne at No. 30.

“He was absolutely a terrific route runner, a clutch performer with a great work ethic and great football instincts,” Polian said. “Everybody in that room was really convinced we had a good one.”

At first, Wayne wasn’t so good.

He spent the better part of two seasons working through injuries and developing a rapport with Manning.

In 2003, Wayne blossomed in an offense that featured Manning, Marvin Harrison and two-time NFL rushing champ Edgerrin James. By 2006, Wayne was emerging as the next big thing and wound up dancing in the rain after catching a TD pass in Indy’s Super Bowl win.

Not long after that, Wayne supplanted the aging and injured Harrison as Manning’s No. 1 target, a title he held until the Colts embarked on a massive rebuilding project after the 2011 season. When Manning was cut, Wayne considered leaving.

Coach Chuck Pagano, an old friend, urged Wayne to stay and the receiver gave Indy a hometown discount on a three-year deal so he could come back and work with rookie Andrew Luck.

“I don’t want to think about that,” Luck said when asked how different things might have been without Wayne. “He was so instrumental in my growth as a rookie. He’s still instrumental in the growth of this team.”

He was still his young self in 2012 and was playing well last year until the ACL injury.

This year has not gone according to the script.

After a solid start, Wayne tore his left triceps and injured his left elbow Oct. 19. He missed the next game and has caught only eight passes for 46 yards in the last three, prompting talk about possible retirement when his contract runs out after the season.

Yet Wayne has continued to be the consummate professional by never complaining and always showing up for practices and games and still making plays on bad days, such as the rub route that got T.Y. Hilton open for Luck’s winning TD pass at Cleveland.

That’s Reggie.

“He’s a Hall of Fame receiver in my opinion five years after he ever decides to retire. And he’ll go down as one of the all-time great receivers and certainly one of the all-time great Colts of all time,” Manning said. “He was a great guy to play with, a great teammate and a heck of a wide receiver.”


AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed to this report.



AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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