INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis gave Reggie Wayne the answer he didn’t want to hear.
They don’t want him back.
Calling it a sad day, team owner Jim Irsay announced Friday that the Colts would part ways with one of the greatest receivers in franchise history. Wayne will become an unrestricted free agent next week.
“Reggie is one of the greatest men to ever wear the horseshoe, and we have been blessed to watch him play for the past 14 years,” Irsay said in a statement. “When he first took the field with us in 2001, we knew this day would eventually arrive. That reality is one of the things that makes pro football such a tough business.”
The decision should not have come as a major surprise to Colts’ fans.
Despite having one of the most storied careers in franchise history, the 36-year-old Wayne was slowing down.
He missed the last nine games in 2013 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and was hobbled during the second half of last season with a torn left triceps. The result: His record streak of 82 consecutive games with three or more catches ended in December. In Indy’s three playoff games, Wayne had one catch for 12 yards.
Until getting hurt, the New Orleans native had produced incredible numbers.
He’s second in franchise history in receptions (1,070), yards receiving (14,345), touchdown catches (80) and 100-yard games (43). Peyton Manning and Wayne formed the NFL’s second-most prolific quarterback-receiver duos in completions (953) and yards (10,602), trailing only Manning and former teammate Harrison. He played in more games (211) and won more game (143) than any player in Colts’ history, had four 100-catch seasons, eight 1,000-yard seasons, six Pro Bowl selections, 12 playoff appearances and one Super Bowl ring.
If Wayne doesn’t play again, he will retire at No. 7 in NFL history in receptions and No. 8 all-time in yards receiving.
He is leaving Indy in the same heartbreaking manner as Manning, Harrison and Dwight Freeney — without a retirement ceremony.
The loss of Wayne will be felt.
“He was that consistent leader,” said Gary Brackett, Indy’s defensive captain who was let go in the 2012 salary purge that also included Manning. “It’s very rare in sports that your leader is also a Hall-of-Famer. Reggie was always a guy you could rely on. Guys gravitated to him because he did things the right way.”
He did it for all the right reasons, too.
In 2012, when Irsay and general manager Ryan Grigson cleaned house to rebuild, Wayne turned down the chance to make more money and play for a “contender” so he could finish his career in Indy and help Chuck Pagano, an old friend, make the most of his first head coaching job.
Wayne also let his adopted hometown share some of his most emotional moments.
They mourned with him when Wayne’s older brother, Rashad, was killed in a traffic accident in September 2006.
They cheered when he caught a TD pass in the Super Bowl win against Chicago, delivering one of the most iconic moments of the Indy era when he rocked his arms and pumped his fist in the rain.
They watched in awe as Wayne caught 13 passes for 212 yards and stretched the football across the goal line in his orange gloves to beat the Packers just days after the team learned Pagano had been diagnosed with leukemia. The game ball was sent right to Pagano’s hospital room.
And when Pagano returned to the team complex 2 1/2 months later, they understood why Wayne stood in the back of the room and choked up.
“He is the epitome of what a coach looks for in a player. Hard work, dedication, and sacrifice are just a few ways I would describe him,” Pagano said. “He encompasses everything that is right about this game, on and off the field.”
Wayne also had fun.
His annual training camp arrivals became one of the season’s most anticipated events. He showed up in a dump truck, on a bus, via military convoy, even in an IndyCar. He wore a hard hat, fatigues, a fire suit and Edgerrin James’ Arizona jersey.
But those light-hearted moments also came with a serious message.
The most touching moment came in 2013 when he arrived on an Indiana University Health Lifeline helicopter with Matt Sercer, a young Indiana man who had been seriously injured in a local farming accident.
“A lot of things were not expected of Matt to be able to walk again and things of that nature,” Wayne said then. “But as you can see, he’s here standing with me. Got out of the chopper, he walked over. Guys like Matt and stories like Matt’s, they’re the real heroes. It inspires you to go out there and do great and prove people wrong.”
Teammates revered Wayne because of his honesty, knowledge of the game and work ethic.
Fans loved him because he became a pillar in the community, a semi-regular at Pacers games, a team spokesman in good times and bad.
But Wayne didn’t have a choice in this wrenching decision.
“He truly is one of a small handful of players who really define the Colts as an organization,” general manager Ryan Grigson said. “His dedication and the example he set are second to none.”
This article was written by Michael Marot from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.