The 2011 season was a disastrous one for the Indianapolis Colts. The team limped their way to two wins all year behind the quarterbacking of Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky. One of the two wins from the season came in week fifteen, at home on Thursday night football against the Houston Texans. With 19 seconds left in the game, Orlovsky hit Reggie Wayne for the game-winning score. The crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium that night erupted into the ever familiar chants of "Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!" Only that night was different. It was likely the last home game that number 87 would ever play in Indianapolis.
Nobody would have blamed him for leaving in free agency. On March 7, the team released his longtime quarterback, Peyton Manning. Two days later, the exodus continued with the Colts releasing Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett, and others. Reggie Wayne, a free agent, had other offers, including from the Patriots to join Tom Brady in New England. But just days after the Colts had released so many great players, Reggie Wayne re-signed to return to the team. Despite having major salary cap problems, a new quarterback, a new head coach, and a new general manager, Reggie came back. "This is home and this is where I wanted to be," Wayne said when he re-signed with the Colts. "Colt for life. I'm going to get that tattoo put on my back."
Reggie Wayne bleeds blue. He is the absolute definition of a "horseshoe guy." If a Colts Mount Rushmore were to go up in Indianapolis, Wayne would be an easy choice to occupy one of the spots. He holds the franchise record for most career games played with 211 and most career wins he was a part of with 143, and he ranks second in almost every receiving category: receptions (1,070), receiving yards (14,345), receiving touchdowns (80), 100-yard games (43), and consecutive games with a reception (134). He also ranks seventh all-time in NFL history in receiving yards and eighth all-time in receptions in NFL history, also ranking as arguably the second-greatest playoff receiver ever behind only Jerry Rice. In his fourteen years with the Colts, Reggie made six Pro Bowls and was named a first-team All-Pro in 2010.
Without any doubt, Reggie Wayne is among the greatest players to ever wear the horseshoe. His number 87 should be retired and his name should join the Colts' Ring of Honor at Lucas Oil Stadium. There are so many memories - way too many to recount here.
There was the Chuckstrong game in 2012, still one of the greatest individual performances I have ever seen from a receiver. The Colts were playing one of the NFL's best teams, the Packers, in the first game since head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. The team was 1-2 and, on paper, shouldn't have stood much of a chance against the Packers. And the first half went mostly as expected, with Green Bay opening up a 21-3 halftime lead over Indianapolis at Lucas Oil. But Reggie Wayne literally would not let his team lose the game. With his good friend and head coach Chuck Pagano in the hospital and his team struggling at home, Wayne put them on his back and delivered perhaps the finest performance of his career. On the day, he caught 13 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown - the game-winnner with 35 seconds left. On the final drive of the game, Andrew Luck targeted Reggie Wayne on six of the 13 plays on the drive, connecting five times for 64 yards and a score, including two huge third down conversions.
Or who can forget the game-winner against the Patriots in the now infamous 4th-and-2 game? Peyton Manning connected with his top receiver ten times for 126 yards and two scores that day, but none bigger than the slant route with 13 seconds left to beat the Patriots. Or the 2006 game against the Broncos in Denver, a team that boasted one of the league's best pass defenses. Reggie Wayne caught ten passes for 138 yards and three scores to help the Colts stay perfect. He was unstoppable that day, just like so many others.
And, of course, his 53-yard touchdown reception in Super Bowl XLI in the driving rain will be remembered for a long time, just like his fist pump and dance afterwards will be. And to even get to the Super Bowl took the AFC Championship game comeback against the Patriots, where on the final drive Reggie caught a pass over the middle, took off running up the field - and then lost the ball. It floated up in the air and things seemed to progress in slow motion, but somehow Reggie reached up and pulled the ball out of midair to save the game and the season.
One of my favorite memories didn't even come in a game. But every fall at training camp, Reggie Wayne on the jugs machine after practice was a sight to behold. He caught everything, and most of them were one-handed. Colts players and media would all gather around to watch it, and we all marveled at how amazing it was. But it was just Reggie being Reggie.
There are so many memories that it's impossible to count them all. He made the incredible seem routine. He was the bridge between two great quarterbacks, and even while playing with the trio of Collins, Painter, and Orlovsky in 2011 Reggie managed 75 receptions for 960 yards. There is so much to remember about number 87, from the great moments to the insane catches to the game-winners to the very fact that he showed up every single week and played well. And in every single home game, the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium would erupt into chants of "Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!" No other Colt received the love from the home crowd like Reggie Wayne - not even Peyton Manning.
Unfortunately, age and injuries can catch up to even the greatest of the greats. It happened to Manning, as the team parted ways with him over uncertainty about his injured neck. And it happened to Reggie Wayne too. He tore his ACL in week seven of the 2013 season and tore his triceps in week seven of the 2014 season. And though he played through the latter injury, he wasn't the same player after it. At 36-years of age, father time caught up to even the great Reggie Wayne.
"I hope you're the one who stays here forever," running back Edgerrin James told Reggie back in 2006 after the star running back left the Colts in free agency. Maybe that's what will happen, as the receiver has said publicly that he will not play for any team but the Colts. Reggie has said he's a Colt for life.
And there's little doubt about that. Longtime Colts radio voice Bob Lamey said today on 1070 the Fan that Reggie is "the best player I've ever been around." Some day, hopefully Reggie Wayne will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, because he's one of the greatest Colts there has ever been.
Thanks for so many memories, Reggie. Things won't be the same without you.