INDIANAPOLIS – Reggie Wayne took the baton from Peyton Manning this offseason and ran with it.
Wayne and the Indianapolis Colts couldn't be happier.
After spending nearly a dozen NFL seasons living in the shadow of Manning, Marvin Harrison or both, Indianapolis' longest-tenured player has finally emerged as the Colts' unquestioned offensive leader.
"You realize those were a lot of big situations that he comes up in," Andrew Luck said after watching Monday's game film. "It's not that hard to throw the ball in the vicinity of a receiver and he goes out and makes an amazing catch. He made everybody look good."
While this may be Luck's team, eventually, Wayne's imprint is all over it. He's passed along the critical lessons he learned from Manning and Harrison and other ex-Colts about the work ethic needed to excel in the NFL.
• When Luck graduated from Stanford and the Colts' offseason mini-camps wrapped up, Wayne made sure he and his new quarterback got together to work out their timing long before training camp began, just like he and Manning had done.
• Throughout team meetings and practice, Wayne provided this young receiving corps with a private glimpse into what has made him so successful: Breaking down tape, explaining the nuances of earning a quarterback's trust, making changes through eye signals, providing tips on catching techniques and explaining how he's managed to stay fit enough to play in 177 games, make 149 consecutive starts and be a productive receiver at age 33, just like Harrison taught him.
• And on Sunday, Wayne took his private lessons public. He caught 13 passes for a career-high 212 yards, including five for 64 yards on Indianapolis' decisive final drive – the last catch a 4-yard TD with 35 seconds to go that gave Indy a stunning 30-27 victory over Green Bay.
The game only told part of Wayne's story. It came six days after the receiver learned his close friend, coach Chuck Pagano, would be out indefinitely after being diagnosed with a form of leukemia.
"I said to myself I was going to lay it all out on the line (for Pagano)," Wayne said after the game. "They were going to have to carry me off, the old (Kellen) Winslow senior, give everything I had. As a team, we were able to just keep fighting, fighting, fighting and fighting."