The Colts would see how Wayne was feeling on Saturday morning before deciding if he would play 10 months removed from right knee surgery in the home preseason game that night against the New Orleans Saints.
“So I went home and prayed about it and had a real good night’s sleep, got about 12 hours in preparing myself,” Wayne said. “I couldn’t tell you the last time I got 12 hours sleep. I woke up this morning and saw (Pagano) and he asked how I felt and I said, ‘Pretty good.’”
That was good enough.
Pagano responded, “Alright, let’s see where this thing is.”
When Wayne was introduced before the Colts’ 23-17 loss, a sellout Lucas Oil Stadium crowd roared. When he caught a pass on the Colts’ first offensive play, the cheers were even louder, although the Saints had jumped offside so the 5-yard reception didn’t stand. The 14th-year pro played just two series, and his other reception was negated by a T.Y. Hilton penalty.
But no matter. Wayne had accomplished what he had hoped. The knee was sound. He enjoyed the full-speed action. It’s one thing to say you’re ready from practice. It’s another to prove it in a game.
“It was fun,” he said. “This was what all the hard rehab was all about, getting this opportunity to go back out there with my teammates and finally play some real live football. It was cool.”
When did quarterback Andrew Luck suspect his first pass would go to Wayne?
“I had an inkling from the moment he started working back to get ready, when he came back, the first play would go to Reggie Wayne,” Luck said with a chuckle.
Luck could tell just from looking at Wayne in the huddle that the six-time Pro Bowl star was ready.
“He always has that great look in his eye when he’s on the football field,” Luck said.
While some might question Pagano for risking Wayne in a preseason game, the wide receiver was convinced he needed this.
“In my opinion, I think it was vital. It was key,” he said. “When you look at a live game, which is 100 mph compared to a practice, which is probably about 70 mph, it was key for me to go out there and just be in the fire a little bit. I got some good looks. Take your hat off to them, they did a great job coming in and giving us different looks and that’s something I needed. I needed to see a team, especially a team like the Saints that does a lot of blitzing and does a lot of exotic defenses, so it was good for me to go out there and experience that a little bit.
“Going into the game, eight to 10 plays you think it’s right on time, but once you’re out there you feel like it’s not enough time. So the little time I did get, it was good and I felt great doing it.”
Aside from the anticipated warm reception for the fan favorite, it was just like any other game. After introductions, Wayne gave Pagano a hug.
“I do that every game, even when I was hurt last season,” Wayne said. “We always hug. I always tell him, ‘Thank you,’ and he tells me, ‘Thank you’ back. It’s been like that since day one.”
While Pagano didn’t hesitate to say reigning NFL sack champion Robert Mathis would not suit up, the coach didn’t divulge what would happen with No. 87 during the week.
“It’s a great thing. It’s an emotional thing,” the coach said of Wayne’s return. “I know for Reggie it was awesome. For all of us, it was great to see him back out there and get a little burn as we like to call it.”
Wayne admitted he was touched by the cheers during introductions. They’ve been yelling “Reg-gie! Reg-gie! Reg-gie!” for 14 years. But it’s never meant more to him.
“I did (hear them), and I appreciate them,” he said. “I guess they can always remind you of where you stand in their hearts. I’ve always loved Indy, man. They’ve always shown me nothing but respect. They’ve always treated me like this is home for me. And I just want to do everything I possibly can to show that respect back to them.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.