INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – At some point, Reggie’s Corner will erupt.
At some point Sunday afternoon, their guy will trot to their end of Lucas Oil Stadium. He’ll scan the north-east corner – too often the forgotten corner – smile that Reggie smile, open his arms and embrace the moment and the thousands of fans who embraced him and never will never forget him.
One last time.
“Absolutely,’’ Reggie Wayne said. “They don’t know it, but I’ve got to do that. It’ll probably be the last time.’’
Sunday is Reggie Wayne Day at Lucas Oil Stadium. Arguably the most popular, engaging Indianapolis Colt enters the team’s Ring of Honor. So many former teammates are expected to be on hand to share what will be an emotional afternoon, including several teammates whose names already decorate the upper ring: Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Jeff Saturday. Dallas Clark will be there. So, too, Robert Mathis, Gary Brackett, newly-elected U.S. Congressman Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Stokley.
And those loyalists in Reggie’s Corner.
How it began
Lucas Oil Stadium always was sold out and lathered up as Wayne’s career took root and began to flourish. But every Sunday something seemed amiss.
That one corner of the stadium always seemed to be on the outside looking in.
The Colts do their pre-game stretching and drills on the south-end of the stadium. They come out of the south-east tunnel, through the inflatable and the haze. When they break before heading to the bench, several players routinely sprint to the north-west end zone, take a knee and pray.
“That one corner was always left out,’’ Wayne said of the stadium’s north-east corner. “Nobody ever went to that corner. I decided, ‘Let me go show those people some love.’ Went over there, showed ‘em some love, got ‘em going. From that point it just stuck.
“Four games later it’s Reggie’s Corner. I didn’t know it was going to be all that. I was just trying to show them they weren’t forgotten.’’
Wayne still doesn’t remember the first time he singled out what grew into Reggie’s Corner.
“It just started and I had to keep it going,’’ he said. “I couldn’t stop. It became a thing. I always looked forward to it. People talk about it and smile.
“I can’t go nowhere without somebody saying, ‘I’m in your corner.’’’
Not surprisingly, Reggie’s Corner is simply an extension of Reggie Wayne’s relationship with a city that adopted him when the Bill Polian used the 30th overall pick in the 2001 draft on the fluid, confident wideout from Miami.
It always was important to dive headlong into his new environment, even while learning everything that came with that strange environment.
“Once I got to the Colts I didn’t know nothing about the Midwest,’’ said Wayne, a standout at New Orleans’ John Ehret H.S. before heading to The U. “I had been to Milwaukee one time as a kid and all I remember is it was cold as hell. From day 1 I got in, I didn’t know anybody in the Midwest other than my family in Milwaukee.’’
Things got a tad worse a few days after the April 2001 NFL Draft.
“I heard Jim Mora didn’t even want me,’’ Wayne said. “He wanted a defensive player because the defense was struggling.’’
However, the community quickly warmed to the new kid on the block.
“I’m in Indianapolis, relaxin’, chillin’, trying to learn the landscape,’’ Wayne said. “I’m driving around, going to a store and people are recognizing me. They come up to me and tell me, ‘Hey, you’re the pick. You’re this and that. We’re glad to have you.’
“They took me in from day 1. They treated me like I was family. I decided I was going to show my appreciation by giving back, by reaching out to the community, going to places that guys normally wouldn’t go just because it means that much to me.’’
Like many of his teammates, Wayne was active in the community. He donated his time and resources. Few Colts have been able to build as strong as bond with the fan base as did Wayne.
“A lot of fans think you’re a myth,’’ he said. “They only see you on TV. I wanted to be touchable. I wanted you to be able to see me and have a conversation and let you know I do exist and I do care and I do know where you come from and I do understand your struggles and your hard times.
“The biggest thing for me is I always wanted to put smiles on peoples’ faces. I know everybody goes through stuff, but if I could just take your mind off of it for a little bit, that was a win.’’
No Colt has appeared in more regular-season games (211) or wins (143), or playoff games (21), than Reggie Wayne. Only John Unitas (17) was with the team for more than Wayne’s 14 seasons.
He caught a touchdown in the Super Bowl XLI win over the Chicago Bears and agonized after falling short in the Super Bowl XLIV loss to New Orleans. He led the NFL in receiving yards in 2007 (1,510) and was a six-time Pro Bowl selection.
Wayne ranks second to Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison in virtually every meaningful receiving category, and ranks 10th in NFL history with 1,070 receptions and 14,345 yards.
Yet it all ended March 6, 2015. That’s when the only NFL team Wayne knew decided it was time to move on. He was a free agent, and the Colts weren’t interested.
“I was pissed,’’ Wayne said. “Shoot yeah I was.’’
Wayne’s final two seasons with the Colts were marred by a torn ACL in his right knee (2013) and a torn triceps (2014). He yearned to regain his health, return for one more season – “Fifteen looks better than 14,’’ he said with a laugh – and then walk away.
Never got the chance.
In early March, owner Jim Irsay met with Wayne in Florida and told him the team would be moving in another direction.
“It was face-to-face, so it was respectful in that way,’’ Wayne said. “But I still felt disrespected.’’
Wayne also was a free agent after the 2011 season. He considered overtures on the open market – at least one was serious, although to this day he won’t elaborate – but decided to accept the Colts’ three-year, $17.5 million offer. At 34, he would be instrumental as the franchise transitioned from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck.
And now, this.
“I told Irsay, ‘Man, do you know how much money I left on the table to come back here in 2012? I could have went somewhere else,’’’ Wayne said. “I kinda faulted Irsay because at the end of the day it was his team, but I knew what he was dealing with up front with Ryan Grigson.
“I felt like (Irsay) was taking their word over what you see I told him, ‘Two years ago I hurt my knee. This year I’m playing with a torn triceps. Let me get right for one more year. I ain’t gotta be the No. 1 dude. I just want to be a dude who wants to play one more year.’’’
To make matters worse, the Colts filled Wayne’s void with another 34-year old Miami product: Andre Johnson.
“It pissed me off. It did,’’ Wayne said. “And it pissed me off that, ‘OK, you didn’t bring me back for one more year, but you bring my homie to replace me?’ That was a slap in the face to me.
“The last thing I told Irsay is, ‘I appreciate you and your family. You took me in and you didn’t have to. You helped fulfill the dream of a 7-year old boy.’ I looked at him and I told him, ‘You know what, the team ain’t gonna be the same. I’m just telling you that. I hope I’m dead-a** wrong, but it ain’t gonna be the same.’’
The last time the Colts reached the playoffs: 2014, Wayne’s final season.
“I think they’re headed in the right direction,’’ he said. “I think in another two years they’ll be something to deal with.’’
Soothing the hurt
Wayne’s angst at being discarded was eased by the reaction of the team’s fan base.
“I’ll never forget the cry from Colts fans, Colts Nation, the players,’’ he said. “At that time I didn’t have Twitter, but people were sending me screen shots of what everybody was saying. That’s what mattered to me. What did they think? Did I leave a great memory with them?
“I didn’t want to be that a****e teammate. For me, that’s what made the departure easier.’’
The screen shots included one of the Indiana Power & Light building featuring Wayne’s 87 in blue.
“Man, that was major to me,’’ he said. “It wasn’t about the game. It wasn’t about the caches. It wasn’t about the wins. It wasn’t about the Super Bowl.
“I wouldn’t play for the team again, but at least I left an impression.’’
This never was viewed as part of Reggie Wayne’s end game. Not standing at midfield at halftime of Sunday’s game with the Tennessee Titans. Not being flanked by so many of his former teammates/life-long friends.
Not becoming the 15th honoree in the Colts’ Ring of Honor.
“It’s not something that I set out to do,’’ he said. “Once I became a football player, all I wanted to do was to go play in the NFL. Once I got to the NFL, I was like, ‘I’ll bleed (Colts) blue.’ That’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t want to go anywhere else.
“I just wanted my peers to respect me and tell me I was a good player, a great teammate, a great person. And I wanted to please the fans.’’
Yet here we are, a few days away from Wayne’s name being unveiled.
“When you play and the more you play in that stadium and you look up top and you see those names, eventually you pray you can add your name based on all the hard work and dedication those guys put in to get up there,’’ he said.
“What it does is cement my legacy. At the end of the day, I don’t have to get any more accolades to tell me everything I did was appreciated and was respected.
“If this is going to be the last of the last for me, I’ll be totally satisfied.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.