FOXBORO, Mass. — Every great quarterback needs a great receiver to rely on during their early development. Joe Montana and Steve Young had Jerry Rice, Troy Aikman had Michael Irving and Peyton Manning had Marvin Harrison. And those are just a few of the most extreme cases throughout NFL history.
Now, the focus of that argument turns to Indianapolis, where the development of Andrew Luck takes center stage as the next great signal caller. But before his impressive rookie season even got underway, questions ran wild about who Luck would be throwing to.
Reggie Wayne has more than answered those questions this season, as the soon to be 34-year-old receiver — his birthday is Saturday, Nov. 14 — has reemerged into one of the NFL’s premier wide receivers.
Coming off a down season, where he gained less than 1,000 yards for the first time in eight years, and heading into his 12th NFL season, Wayne was viewed as past his prime and on the downward slope of his career. With a depressing 2-14 season in the books, Manning heading out the door and a complete rebuilding effort seemingly on the horizon, Wayne’s time with in Indy was thought to be over.
But the lifelong Colt made a commitment to the franchise, and while other teams, including the Patriots, pined for his services, he stayed loyal to the only team he’s ever known. And the bold decision has paid off for both team and player.
“He always wanted to be here and as soon as Chuck [Pagano] made that call, it was just a matter of, ‘Yeah I’m coming,'” interim head coach Bruce Arians said on a conference call Wednesday. “He’s a legend here and he’s going to go into the Hall of Fame.”
Wayne has undergone a complete transformation from a season ago, nearly eclipsing his final statistical totals of 2011 (75 catches for 960 yards and four touchdowns) in nine games, as he’s already racked up 69 grabs, 931 yards and three scores this season. And even more than just the statistical figures, Wayne’s impact can be seen in the young quarterback throwing him the ball.
Even from some of his earliest days at Stanford, Andrew Luck has widely been viewed as an eventual Hall of Fame quarterback. His raw talents as a passer, tireless work ethic and unexpected yet incredible athleticism made him into one of the most sought after prospects in years. But without a reliable receiver to throw to, Luck very well could’ve seen his development stunted and his talents wasting away as if they belonged in Margaritaville.
Luckily, and no pun intended here, the rookie quarterback had a knowledgeable and crafty veteran to assist with the transition. And Luck openly recognizes how important Wayne has been in that process.
“He’s been great. He doesn’t talk much; he’s not going to sit down and lecture the young guys, but the way he works, the way he prepares during the week, the way he takes care of his body, the way he mentally prepares, is a great example for us all in the locker room,” Luck said of his No. 1 receiver. “To boot, he’s a great football player, so it’s fun getting able to throw to him.”
Luck’s continued improvement behind center and increased presence as a leader of the team has been impressive in and of itself. But without a receiver who is leading the league in receptions and second in yards playing on the outside, Luck and the Colts would never be having the sort of success they’ve found this season.
“All of the other rookies have followed the pied piper, and that’s Reggie Wayne. He sets the tempo for us offensively and then Andrew is the second guy in line,” Arians said of Wayne’s importance. “You can’t put a quantified value on how much his leadership means to our team.”
With how important Wayne’s been to Indianapolis’ success this season, one thing is for sure. The Colts are damn happy that he’ll be lining up for them on Sunday at Gillette Stadium instead of the home team — an idea that was more than just floated around during free agency.
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