By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — When it was suggested to Andrew Luck on Thursday that wide receiver Reggie Wayne might not play long enough to set NFL records alongside him, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback seemed a bit dubious.
"Tell that to Reggie," he said.
Indeed, the 34-year-old shows no sign of slowing down as he enters his 13th season in the league. He's coming off his sixth Pro Bowl appearance after a season in which he caught the second-most passes (106) of his career and tied for his second-highest total in receiving yards (1,355).
He was the leading receiver in Friday morning's practice with seven catches, and he needs 32 receptions this year to reach 1,000 for his career.
If he maintains last year's average of about 6.5 catches per game, he'd reach the benchmark in Week 6 at San Diego. If it takes a week longer, he'd do it at home against the Denver Broncos. In which case, the opposing quarterback might come on to the field to congratulate him.
Told only eight receivers in NFL history have cleared the 1,000-catch plateau, Wayne was duly impressed.
"That ain't bad," he said. "Let's do it. Let's try to get it done. I really feel like whenever I'm getting some kind of record or getting some kind of accolade, I'm doing something right, I'm helping this team do something, and that's all I can do is my part, and it starts with me."
Wayne's working just as hard now as he did during his rookie season of 2001. He wakes up early every morning to begin his offseason workouts, and he stays late after every practice to catch additional balls from the JUGS machine.
In fact, Wayne is more impressed that he's appeared in each of the Colts' past 173 regular season games than he is of his receptions total.
"Let me tell you something, me being able to be there each week and answering that bell is bigger than everything else, believe it or not," he said. "I take pride in that. I want to be there for the guys. When they go down the foxhole, I want to be available to go with them."
It's that team-first mentality, a trait shared with long-time teammate Robert Mathis, that makes Wayne a natural leader for this young team.
Luck calls Wayne the leader of the offense, and he makes no attempt to hide his admiration.
"You hear stories about guys on other teams, and you see different things, and he is the consummate professional in my mind," Luck said. "If I were lucky enough to play as long as he's played, that's how I would model my behaviors in the locker room."
As strong as Luck and Wayne's chemistry is on the field, the two seem to have an equal connection away from it.
They've almost made a game this spring and summer of passing off the leadership label to one another.
"I'm just keeping the seat warm for him," Wayne said. "At the end of the day, he's our leader. He's been more vocal this year and rightfully so. I'm the vice president. I'm not the president. It's his team. He sets the tone. He sets the pace, especially for the offense, and whenever he has another mission to take care of, that's when I step in. That's what vice presidents do."
It doesn't matter who gets credit for leading the way, both players share the same goal.
Winning is still the most important thing. And Wayne is willing to do whatever it takes to meet those ends.
The offense is full of second-year players, with Luck joined by tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen as well as running back Vick Ballard and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. And no other wide receiver on the roster is over the age of 26.
So if his teammates want to look at Wayne as the wizened old veteran, he's fine with that.
Just don't make the mistake of thinking it will result in a free pass.
He famously looked around campus at Anderson University during training camp last season and declared he was surrounded by Smurfs. The observation this year?
"Still Smurfs," Wayne said. "Still a young team, especially on the offensive side in the skill positions, we're still young. We still got two-year tight ends. Take me and DHB (Darrius Heyward-Bey) out the system, we still got two-year receivers. We're still young. We're still growing. We just got one year under our belt. So now they know what it tastes like. So, hopefully, they can tell us if it's enough pepper or not."