INDIANAPOLIS – Many times over an emotional year he’s stood at the podium with a heavy heart to deliver news or praise.
Chuck Pagano had to do so again at the Colts’ complex Monday afternoon. He walked up and talked first about injuries. Updates on Samson Satele, Greg Toler, Josh Gordy, Cam Johnson were read just like a typical day after a game.
Then came the final name on that list. Words out of Pagano’s mouth came out a little slower this time.
“The biggest one, obviously, I think everybody has heard by now and knows that Reggie (Wayne suffered an ACL tear. He’ll be lost for the season,” said Pagano.
Pagano continued: “We hate to lose anybody,” said the coach-and then a pause followed.
“But you know this one…this one stings.”
Finding the words to say in that announcement difficult should come as no surprise for anyone who understands the relationship between Pagano and Wayne. They were together at Miami when Pagano was an assistant and Wayne a rising star on the Hurricanes.
The receiver was a veteran that Pagano could turn to when he first joined the team in January of 2013. When Pagano was diagnosed with Leukemia, Wayne wore orange gloves and shoes in honor of the coach’s battle with the illness.
Now Pagano’s ready to return the favor to his ailing receiver, whose ackward landing on his left leg going for a pass in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against Denver tore the ACL his left knee.
“I said what I’ll do is I’ll put the gloves on now. He wore them a year ago, I’ll wear them now,” said Pagano. “And so will the rest of the team and coaches and everybody in that locker room. We’ll get him through this. Certainly, we’ll all be there and I’ll be there every step of the way with him.”
In many ways Pagano spoke for an entire Colts locker room on Monday, who reflected emotionally on the loss of the leader both on and off the field. Wayne’s team-leading 38 receptions and 503 yards have made him the team’s top offensive weapon, yet it’s not the only thing the team loses with the 13-year NFL veteran on the sidelines.
“He is more than a teammate. I think undoubtedly, unquestionably, has been the leader of our offense and one of the great leaders of this team,” said quarterback Andrew Luck of Wayne. “He made my rookie year so much easier. A phenomenal football player.
“So it stinks. It really does.”
Luck lamented his effort on the throw to Wayne in which the receiver got injured, since the pass was well off target despite him being open.
“I think I had the pump fake. Guy jumped in the air, stepped up and made a piss-poor throw,” said Luck when asked to describe the play. “Looking back it again today, there was really no one within 30 yards of him. He probably would have scored if I actually give him a decent ball. I feel somewhat responsible for the whole thing.
“Didn’t complete it and I guess such is football at times. We’ll move on.”
It shouldn’t have been like this on Monday, considering the team won perhaps the most important regular season game in the Indianapolis history of the franchise. Despite the return of Peyton Manning to the place he called home for 14 seasons with an undefeated team, the Colts managed to control the pace of play in a six-point win that improved them to 5-2 on the season.
Twelve hours later, Pagano faces the prospect of having to replace his best receiver for the remainder of the season in hopes the team can continue it’s run towards an AFC South title.
“It’ll be next man up and they’re going to have to raise their level of play,” said Pagano. “Guys like LaVon (Brazill) are going to have to rise up to the challenge. David Reed’s going to have to rise up to the challenge. We got some other guys in the building that are on the practice squad that certainly you take a look at and see where they’re at.
“Again, you can’t replace him but somebody will rise up. Just like you lose anybody else, it’s next man up.”
But it’s not that simple this time around. Not even the defensive players can deny.
“No matter how long it’s going to take for Reggie to get back on the field, whoever’s in that position is going to have to make some plays, got to step up,” said defensive end Cory Redding. “It is next man up. And I just wait for the day when Reggie comes back and just continues to do what he’s been doing.”
Pagano is completely confident that Wayne will do that based on his faith in his rehabilitation and the spirit he expects the receiver to train with despite being in his mid-30s. Couple that with Pagano’s meeting with Wayne on Monday after the diagnosis, and the coach is convinced he’ll see Wayne in a Colts uniform again.
“You just look in a man’s eye. When he tells you he’s going to do something, I can just look in his eye,” said Pagano. “Again, I’ve known him for a long time and watched him work over the years and he says I’ll be back, I trust he’ll be back.”
In the meantime, Pagano will have the gloves waiting.