INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Reggie Wayne spent the offseason working out.
The perennial Pro Bowler rehabbed his injured right knee two or three times a day and made semi-regular calls to check in on teammates all for one singular goal: To prove wrong anyone who doubts he can return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament at his age, be the same player and lead the Colts to a Super Bowl.
“You guys say I can’t do it,” Wayne said Friday night at a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society in Indianapolis. “You say I’m 35, over the hill, that I can’t do it. Hopefully, I can get you guys to sing another tune.”
The receiver has done it before, showing time and again that nothing was out of his reach.
After returning from a torn ACL at the University of Miami to become a first-round draft pick, he emerged from the long shadow cast by Marvin Harrison to put together his own glowing resume. Three years ago, he turned down more money from championship contenders to help Indy rebuild following the release of Peyton Manning. And he almost single-handedly willed the Colts to victory when coach Chuck Pagano missed his first game after being diagnosed with leukemia.
So when Wayne crumpled to the ground, clutching his knee, late in an October game against Denver, it seemed implausible that the iron-man receiver’s season could be over.
He has worked relentlessly since then to get back.
“I’m getting there,” Wayne said. “I’m not sure what percentage I’m at, but I feel darn good and I’d better because I’ve been rehabbing my butt off. I get a lot of ‘Daddy, when are you coming home.‘”
The fact that Wayne, who usually spends the summer working out in Miami, is in town shows football is back in season.
And he’s not the only one ready to go.
While Wayne spent Friday evening co-hosting a fundraiser in memory of Ava Parker, a 2-year-old who recently died from cancer, star quarterback Andrew Luck spent the morning and afternoon working out with a group of students for his pet project, Change The Play, a program Riley Hospital for Children uses to target healthier living among children.
Luck acknowledged he was “sore” from doing froggy jumps and running races, but even he was eager to see Wayne and how close he was to being his old self.
“He is a freak, in terms of his health and what he can do at his age,” Luck said. “I’m very excited to get him back on the field and we probably all know he’ll come back and produce better than he ever has.”
On Friday, Wayne was focused on the charity event he co-hosted at Dunaway’s, an Indy restaurant, with Amp Harris. Wayne met Parker’s parents, watched a video of the small child and hugged her mother, Kacey, in a touching tribute. The fundraiser was attended by some of Wayne’s teammates, including NFL sacks champion Robert Mathis and running back Vick Ballard, as well as Pagano.
But as usual, Wayne was the star attraction.
What’s next for Wayne isn’t entirely clear.
He expects the Colts to proceed cautiously in spring mini-camps, which begin next week at the team complex. Team officials are hoping Wayne will be ready for the start of training camp in July.
But what will they get from a guy who turns 35 in November and is in the final year of his contract?
A sure-handed leader who is determined to prove he can still play the game at his level, even though he’s not yet been cleared to the team doctors.
“I’ve not met with the coaches on that stuff, I’ve not talked to the trainers about that,” he said. “We have a meeting Monday, so I just want to find out what the schedule is.”
Until then, Wayne will continue to do what he does best: Work hard, focus on football and be ready whenever the doctors say he can play.
“I’m hoping they’ll let me loose a little, but I’m sure they’re going to hold me out a little bit, which is the right thing to do,” Wayne said, dropping no hint of his plans for his usual grand entrance at camp. “It’s been challenging, and I’ve taken it in stride. But I’ve used you guys as my motivation and I’m looking forward to coming back.”