|Relaxed Reggie expects more after Pro Bowl, championship season|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 14 August 2007 13:17|
Instead, he showed up ready to hunt.
Wayne, now in his seventh season with the Indianapolis Colts, even dressed the part, wearing a camouflage outfit and mask to symbolize the increased expectations he has for 2007.
``I could be 10 times better,'' he said. ``There's always something in there that gets you to work on your game, and I'm always looking for a glitch that I can improve on.''
That glitch is not obvious.
All Wayne has done over the past three seasons is catch 246 passes, 26 touchdowns and produce three straight 1,000-yard seasons. On any other team, those numbers might be good enough for perennial Pro Bowl selections.
But until last year, Wayne's accomplishments seemed little more than a footnote to the rest of the league.
In 2004, he was part of the first receiving trio in NFL history to each finish with 1,000 yards and 10 touchdown catches, yet was bypassed by Pro Bowl voters. The next year, he did the unthinkable, dethroning record-breaking Marvin Harrison as the club's receiving leader, and still didn't make it to Hawaii.
That could be because in Indianapolis, receivers tend to get overshadowed by Harrison's amazing numbers. Team officials, however, always understood Wayne's value to the offense. In 2006, they proved it by re-signing him for $39 million and letting his friend, running back Edgerrin James, test free agency.
It didn't take long for the rewards to start showing.
Wayne was relieved when he finally earned Pro Bowl honors, and was celebrating again less than two months later when he caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. He picked up a glittering ring in June and then returned relaxed, rested and determined to do even more.
``He's a pretty driven guy, and I know his top goals were to win a Super Bowl and go to the Pro Bowl,'' coach Tony Dungy said. ``I think his focus is still there, but I think maybe doing those things last year has taken some of the edge off.''
Wayne's emergence as the league's best No. 2 receiver, or as the Colts like to call their tandem 1A and 1B, didn't come overnight.
A sprained ankle messed up his rookie season, and then he endured the litany of questions about why a first-round pick started only seven games in Year 2.
Wayne emerged his third season in 2003 as a solid target for Peyton Manning, and since then, his career has taken off. Fans started chanting his first name, just like Yankees fans used to cheer on Reggie Jackson or Pacers fans used to embrace Reggie Miller.
Then, just when it seemed nothing could go wrong in Wayne's world, came last September's tragic news that his older brother Rashad was killed in a traffic accident in Kenner, La.
As Wayne grieved, football quickly became more than a job. It was his outlet.
``Winning helped,'' he said. ``We got to the playoffs and we continued to win, the team was jelling and that should motivate anybody. Even with all that other emotional stuff, just being around the guys keeps you going.''
Outside his tough veneer, though, Wayne was hurting.
He dedicated the '06 season to his brother, put a photo of him in his locker, and in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, acknowledged he still thought often about him.
Dungy, whose oldest son committed suicide in December 2005, tried to help.
``We didn't talk a lot, but we had a couple of conversations,'' Dungy said. ``I said 'Here's what I went through, and here's what you're going to experience' and told him I was here if he needed to talk. Then, at the end of the AFC championship game, we sort of looked at each other and we didn't really have to say anything. We just sort of knew what each other was thinking.''
For Wayne, it was the epitome of his brother's dream. He was headed to Miami for the NFL's biggest game, and after that to Honolulu, where football's biggest names play together.
And now Wayne is back to prove that last season was no fluke.
``I've been here seven years now, and I can answer those questions in meetings in my sleep,'' he said. ``Sure, there's a couple of new wrinkles, but I know this offense and what I'm capable of doing, and I know I can get better. That's what I have to do, and that's what everyone else has to do, too.''