INDIANAPOLIS – Mystery shrouds virtually every NFL draft.
Who’s going where? And when?
That includes the 2023 version, which unfolds Thursday night in Kansas City.
And that included 2001.
Reggie Wayne was surrounded by family and friends in New Orleans, and waited. And waited. And waited some more.
“Time kept ticking and ticking, then all of a sudden I’m looking at all these receivers going before me,’’ he said Wednesday.
David Terrell, Koren Robinson, Rod Gardner, Santana Moss, Freddie Mitchell.
“I’m like, ‘I know I’m better than them dudes,'” Wayne said.
The former University of Miami wideout knew some team eventually would come to its senses and dial him up.
And he was convinced it wouldn’t be the Indianapolis Colts.
“Between the Senior Bowl and the Combine I talked to every team except one, and it was the Colts,’’ Wayne said.
Not a word.
“Zero,’’ Wayne said. “Zeeee-ro.’’
The Colts’ Peyton Manning-led offense was well-stocked: Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Jerome Pathon, Marcus Pollard, Ken Dilger, Terrence Wilkins.
They needed to address defensive deficiencies. But when the time came for general manager Bill Polian and coach Jim Mora to invest the 30th overall pick in round 1, his Plan A was discarded.
The draft board was void of defense-worthy talent. It insisted Reggie Wayne was the pick.
Yes, the guy the team hadn’t bothered to bother during the extensive evaluation process.
The Colts shifted to Plan B.
“And that’s OK, you know?’’ Wayne said. “Plan Bs are OK, too. When you’re SOL, out of your Plan A, that means Plan B comes in play.’’
The anxiety building at Wayne’s draft party was broken when he received a call from Mora.
“Me not knowing Jim Mora, it didn’t seem like he was very excited, you know what I mean?’’ Wayne said with a smile. “It was up to me to come in and kind of change his perspective of me and hopefully, hopefully I did some good in that.’’
The player the Colts had no intention of drafting more than exceeded expectations. He and Harrison developed into a lethal tandem, then Wayne forged his own path following Harrison’s departure after the 2008 season. He’s been one of 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in each of the past four years.
From Plan B to one of the Colts’ most popular and prolific players.
“I tell guys all the time it’s not about when you go, it’s about the situation you’re going to,’’ Wayne said. “Time was ticking on the clock and I looked and it was up to the Colts, and after the Colts it was the Ravens. I’m already looking into the second round because I know the Colts I didn’t talk to and I’m like ‘the Ravens don’t need a receiver.’
“I’m looking, looking, looking and my college coach is in Cleveland and I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m going to Cleveland.’”
“It all worked out,’’ Wayne said. “I got the phone call and big smile.’’
Wayne’s introduction to Indy consisted of a ride from New Orleans on owner Jim Irsay’s private jet and a trip from the airport to the team’s West 56th Street complex on Irsay’s helicopter.
“It’s definitely a special time and people should never take it for granted,’’ he said.
Year 2 as coach
Wayne is back for a second year as the Colts’ receivers coach, but only after some soul searching and an interview with first-year head coach Shane Steichen.
“I had some unfinished business,’’ he said. “I really felt like I underachieved as a coach and I just felt like I can do better.
“It was a long conversation with myself looking in the mirror, just figuring out what I wanted to do. It didn’t take long at all.’’
Steichen would completely reshape his offensive staff, and that meant Wayne once again had to go through the interview process.
“I had to show I was worth coming back for another year,’’ he said.
Steichen was impressed.
“Fourteen years playing career. A legend in Indianapolis,’’ he said. “Very detailed. Brings a great wealth of knowledge to that receivers room.’’
Help the rookie QB
The Colts are expected to select their quarterback of the future with a top-four pick in the draft.
Wayne went through a similar transition. In 2012, he was 34 and heading into his 12th season. The Colts would use the No. 1 overall pick on Andrew Luck.
His advice to the organization: give the young QB as much help as possible.
“Making sure the pieces are in place in order to support [the new quarterback],’’ he said. “We understand the quarterback in this league. That’s the big bucks. That’s the guy.
“But if you don’t have your Dallas Clarks or your Marvin Harrisons, or Joseph Addai or Edgerrin James, guys like myself around him to help, then that doesn’t matter. There’s no football player probably personally that I know prepares harder or more than Peyton Manning, but . . . Peyton Manning can’t be Peyton Manning if you don’t have any guys around him to make plays. He can’t throw and catch to himself.’’
The right coaching staff, Wayne added, “is super-duper important. You’ve got to make sure the coaching staff is on the same page and they can kind of preach the Bible, right?
“You’ve just gotta have guys around him who are, for the lack of a better word, ballers.’’