Updated at: 01/03/2013 6:37 PM
By MICHAEL MAROT
(AP) INDIANAPOLIS - Reggie Wayne has an emphatic message for his teammates. He’s got bigger plans for this year’s Indianapolis Colts.
Less than 12 months after taking less money to play for a team in major rebuilding mode and then leading it back to the playoffs as he had promised, Wayne has started concocting all sorts of grand possibilities in his mind.
"If all goes well, if my dreams are correct, I won’t be playing in this (Pro Bowl) game. I have a bigger game to play in and my dreams normally come true," Wayne said with a chuckle after earning his sixth Pro Bowl selection. "Let’s hope that this one is headed in that direction."
Wayne is no mentalist, just a good-natured optimist and a key reason Indianapolis (11-5) is hitting the road to face AFC North champion Baltimore (10-6) in a wild-card round game Sunday.
Clearly, the Colts needed Wayne’s presence this season and not just because of his skills on the field.
He showed this young, unproven offense what it takes to excel in the NFL, how to stick around a while, and what it means to play this game with purpose and passion. The results have been nothing short of remarkable.
Quarterback Andrew Luck set NFL rookie records for most yards passing and most attempts in a season. He tied the NFL single-season mark for game-winning fourth-quarter drives, broke Peyton Manning’s franchise rookie mark for completions, set a new Colts record for rushing TDs by a quarterback and presided over a historic turnaround.
Indy’s rookies also combined for 3,108 yards rushing and receiving, the most of any team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, according to STATS LLC.
And at age 34, Wayne gave no indication he was slowing down. The New Orleans native hauled in 106 receptions for 1,355 yards _ the second-best marks of his career _ and tied Marvin Harrison for the franchise’s most 1,000-yard seasons (eight). He moved into the top 10 on the NFL’s reception list (968), the top 15 in yards receiving (13,063) and broke the NFL record for most consecutive games with three or more catches (64), all while putting football into perspective for these rookies.
"Reggie really is the leader of the offense," Luck said. "Everything he does helps us out. He sets a great example for all the young, new guys that are on the team - myself included -- and he is a lot of fun to throw the ball to."
When it comes to work, though, Wayne is all business.
During the first week of training camp, he hung around after practice in the blazing sun to catch balls from the Jugs machine. He started by himself. Each day, though, the crowd increased and within days, seemingly every receiver on the team was waiting behind one of the NFL’s top receivers.
That didn’t change when the Colts returned to their team complex.
"You know his professionalism, I think that’s big especially with the young group on that side of the ball," safety Antoine Bethea said when asked what Wayne’s most important contribution has been. "Just showing them how to be a professional, how to be a pro. ... You see him in the weight room, but you’d never know anything is wrong with him because he’s out there every day on the practice field and you can count on him every Sunday."
But it almost didn’t work out.
Two days before Indy’s miserable 2-14 season ended in 2011 and about to become an unrestricted free agent, Wayne packed up his locker, took down his nameplate and spoke somberly to reporters as if his career in Indy was about to end.
The Colts did send many of Wayne’s longtime pals -- Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett, Dallas Clark and Manning -- packing in March. Jeff Saturday and Pierre Garcon, a receiver Wayne helped groom, signed free agent contracts with other teams, and most figured that with Indianapolis going young and trying to shed big-dollar contracts, Wayne would go somewhere else, too.
That’s when new coach Chuck Pagano, who befriended Wayne when the two were at the University of Miami, made a personal request.
"Basically I told him, I said I don’t want to do this without you," Pagano said. "I said, `If we’re going to get this thing done and move forward and get back to the winning ways that this organization and certainly our fans in the community are used to, we need you back. I want to do this with you. We all want you back.’"
Wayne had to weigh more lucrative offers from other teams with his passion for playing in front of the fans who chant "Reg-gie, Reg-gie" each week. Speculation focused on New England, Indy’s bitter rival. Andre Johnson, a friend of Wayne’s from the Hurricanes, said Wayne wanted to join him in Houston, too.
After reflecting on Pagano’s words, Wayne turned down the extra money, re-signed with the Colts for three years and $17.5 million so he could help the franchise re-establish itself as a Super Bowl contender and made good on his word.
"This is the journey that all teams want to take," Wayne said. "This is the approach that we wanted. We wanted to give ourselves a chance."
He never imagined the twists and turns of this odyssey would go quite like this.
In April, Wayne’s poster-sized photo replaced Peyton Manning’s on the facade of Lucas Oil Stadium. On Sept. 26, Pagano began the first of three rounds of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with leukemia. On Oct. 7, wearing orange gloves to support his ailing coach and leukemia awareness, Wayne capped a 13-catch, 212-yard game by stretching the ball over the goal line with 35 seconds left to give Indy a 30-27 victory over Green Bay.
On Dec. 23, Wayne hauled in a 7-yard TD pass with 4:08 to break a 13-13 tie and give Indy its playoff-clinching victory.
And now, he has a vision to finish off this storybook season the right way.
"It’s a good one, a good dream," Wayne said. "I won’t tell you the complete ending of it but it’s a good one."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)