- Mike Wells, ESPN Staff Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Reggie Wayne has watched the play at least 10 times. He starts in motion, comes across the middle of the field wide open. Haul in the pass and he’ll be celebrating in the end zone seconds later as the Indianapolis Colts would have extended their lead over the Denver Broncos to 13 points last October.
But the pass from quarterback Andrew Luck was underthrown. Wayne, like he’s done countless times during what will end up being a Hall of Fame career, attempts to make an impressive catch. His foot, according to Wayne, got caught in the Lucas Oil Stadium turf, causing him to tear the ACL in his right knee.
While others may cringe looking at such a bad injury, Wayne has looked at it with a straight face, the same type of seriousness he’s taken over the past eight months while working his way back from the knee injury.
“I wanted to see it because I’m going to do that same thing a million more times,” Wayne said. “It’s something I want to see and I’m going to keep watching it until I’m back out there.”
Wayne’s road to recovery from what he revealed for the first time Thursday as his third ACL tear has been more challenging than the other two.
He’s not the same 20-year-old kid at the University of Miami whose body allowed him to recover more quickly. Wayne’s 35 years old and his NFL career is winding down. His body has gotten to the point where it reacts to the weather. Colder days make it tougher on him than when he has beads of sweat running down the side of his face from the sweltering heat.
“Back in ‘98, I was a young buck,” Wayne said. “I knew I had some time. Now I’m 35, I don’t have any more redshirt eligibility left, so it’s been different. At the same time, it’s been humbling. But for some strange reason, I’m a little hungrier now than I was then.”
Wayne felt like he left his teammates hanging because he wasn’t out there with them for the final 11 games of the season. But as time went by, he had a premonition, one that kind of leaves you scratching your head because an ACL injury isn’t easy to overcome. He believes the injury helped the rest of his body.
“This is probably the healthiest I’ve been since '02,” Wayne said. “One blessing I do take out of last year is that maybe it was time to let my body heal. I took pride in being out there in every game. I tried my best to not leave any T’s uncrossed. Maybe it was time for me to sit back a little bit and get my body back together and I’ve done that.”
Wayne had no problem admitting that the media and doubters fueled him as he rehabbed his knee before anybody showed up at the team’s facility in the morning and long after they left in the evening.
Is Wayne done? Can Wayne regain his form? Will Wayne hurt the Colts more than help them?
Those are questions going through many people's heads but they won’t be answered until Wayne officially returns to the field. He meets with Dr. John Uribe in Miami on a regular basis. His most recent visit didn’t involve any fluid in his knee and that’s why Wayne believes he’s on his way.
Wayne’s been running routes at the team’s facility, but that’s obviously different than doing it with pads on, with a defensive back jamming him at the line of scrimmage or running an out pattern with a cornerback draped on his back.
“I feel like I have nothing to prove to anybody,” Wayne said. “I know what I can do. Guys in this locker room know what I can do. Now it’s time to show the first-timers who have not seen me play, the ones that keep calling me Mr. Wayne, ones that say they played with me on 'Madden.' There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be ready [for training camp] in July.”
Wayne is headed into the final year of his contract. He doesn’t know how many more years he plans to play, instead preferring to use the phrase “day to day.” Just know, Wayne plans to make 2014 a memorable season because the clock is counting down on him. Luck recently referred to Wayne as a "freak" because of the things he's been able to do.
“I know what my age is, I know when something is against me,” he said. “I’m geeked about being able to show everybody what I can do at 35.”
9hEric D. Williams
8hEric D. Williams