INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts’ 39-33 victory over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos came at a hefty price.
Andrew Luck lost his favorite target and the Indianapolis locker room lost one of its most revered leaders when Reggie Wayne was diagnosed Monday with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that will cost him the rest of the season.
News of Wayne’s injury hit hard at the team complex.
Second-year receiver T.Y. Hilton expressed sadness about losing his mentor. Coach Chuck Pagano tried to lean on his standard line about replacing injured players, though it didn’t come with quite the same passion, and Luck blamed himself for putting Wayne in harm’s way with a low, underthrown ball late in the game.
“Looking back it again today, there was really no one within 30 yards of him. He probably would have scored if I actually give him a decent ball. I feel somewhat responsible for the whole thing,” Luck said. “I think I feel sick to my stomach about it a little bit.”
Wayne, who was not hit on the play, clutched his right knee and stayed on the ground for several minutes as Luck, longtime friend Antoine Bethea, other teammates and a group of trainers gathered around. After walking to the Colts’ sideline, the man who had played in 189 consecutive games limped into the locker room with tears in his eyes knowing that his season was likely over.
The perennial Pro Bowler leads his team with 38 catches and 503 yards this season. In 13 seasons, all with the Colts, he has 1,006 receptions, 13,506 yards and 80 TD catches – second in each category on the franchise’s career charts, behind only ex-teammate Marvin Harrison and ahead of Hall of Famer Raymond Berry.
But Wayne’s influence can’t be measured merely by stats.
When the Colts (5-2) decided to cut ties with more than a half-dozen high-priced veterans, including Manning, after a 2-14 season, Wayne was one of the few holdovers who decided to stick around and rebuild.
He always plays with passion, which was never more evident than last October against Green Bay. In the Colts’ first game after Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, Wayne caught 13 passes for 212 yards and almost single-handedly willed the Colts from a 17-3 deficit to a 30-27 victory that ended with Wayne’s orange gloves, a tribute to Pagano, barely crossing the goal line with 35 seconds to go.
It’s one of the reasons Pagano believes Wayne will return next season.
“He’s not going out like this. He’s not going to leave this game like this. There’s no way,” said Pagano, who first met Wayne when they were working together at the University of Miami. “He’ll fight, he’ll get his surgery, and he’ll rehab and he’ll grind like nobody’s ever grinded. He’ll do whatever it takes to get back on that football field – even if it’s to catch one more pass, make one more block, do one more thing to help this organization win a football game, he’ll do it. But he’s not going out like this.”
Pagano did not say when Wayne would have surgery, though it takes most athletes a year to come back.
Since a high ankle sprain and a sprained knee cost him three games as a rookie in 2001, Wayne had not missed a game. That streak that will end Nov. 3 at Houston when the Colts return from their bye week.
Losing Wayne hurts even more because of what has already happened to the Colts’ offense.
Starting tight end Dwayne Allen (hip), Indy’s top two running backs, Vick Ballard (knee) and Ahmad Bradshaw (neck), and starting left guard Donald Thomas (quad) are already on season-ending injured reserve.
“The first thing out of his mouth is he feels like he let his teammates down because he can’t be there now. That’s how unselfish this guy is,” Pagano said. “Like I told you, he could give a hoot about the numbers, all that stuff. He just wants to play and help us win a championship. That’s what he’s dealing with right now.”