ANDERSON, Ind. — Reggie Wayne announced his presence at Colts training camp by shouting to teammate Gary Brackett as he ran onto the Anderson University practice fields, "Ten years starts now!"
Although he was the last player on the field, the good news is that Wayne was there for the Colts' first training-camp practice after it had appeared that he and Robert Mathis might opt to hold out as expressions of their displeasure. Both men are seeking contracts that that they feel are commensurate with their immense talent.
With Peyton Manning also due for a deal, the unspoken message could be rather clear to both: Get in line, fellas.
And really, that's what they did. Wayne and Mathis, two pivotal pieces on a Super Bowl-caliber team, joined their teammates at camp and took most of their normal turns during the team's first practice (Mathis was held back a bit in a few team drills).
With Wayne and Mathis here, Bob Sanders and Anthony Gonzalez back practicing, and news trickling in that first-round DE Jerry Hughes soon would be on the field after signing a contract, it was mostly all smiles as the Colts try to build themselves back up after the crushing Super Bowl loss.
But it almost wasn't that way. When asked if it was always his plan to show up to camp, Wayne wasn't politically correct.
"Uh …," he said, pausing for effect. "I wouldn't say that. But I thought about it, man. It's bigger than me. My teammates, I already let them down once. So I just want to be here for them and let them know that, hey, no matter what, I am here for them."
Wayne said he went back and forth this summer and thought long and hard about his situation while his Colts teammates were taking part in minicamps and OTAs, which he did skip. He wanted to let management know that he was a better player than what was reflected in the salary he was being paid — as the "16th- or 17th-best receiver (in the NFL)," he said — but he also couldn't help but realize there was something missing when he watched the tapes of the OTAs.
"It was weird (with) No. 87 not out there," Wayne said. "I told myself, 'Think about it, think about it, think about it.' I thought about it, prayed about it."
And he knew what he had to do.
So did Robert Mathis, who said he never really strongly considered skipping camp.
"I wasn't about to," Mathis said. "In the end, it's about your teammates. They're here, and I didn't want to leave them hanging."
That doesn't mean that Wayne and Mathis are completely pleased. It just means that they were willing to put football before their own personal business. Asked if he knows where he ranks, salary-wise, at defensive end, Mathis barely hesistated: "Fourteenth," he said with a smile.
And Wayne admitted that he wavered a bit about the decision of whether to show up or not. "It's hard to say (when the decision was made). I was kind of like LeBron James: One day I wake up like this; one day I wake up like that."
Both players said they are here for their teammates. Their teammates clearly were glad they showed.
Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark, two of the offense's undisputed leaders, said they were thrilled that Wayne showed up for his 10th season on time.
"You love having all of your best players here, and (Wayne) looked really good today," Manning said. "He looked to be in great shape."
"It just kind of shows the character of what kind of person he is and what he thinks about this team," Clark said. "It's great to have him here because you see a lot of guys around the league holding out, using it as leverage (to get a new contract), and every person is different. But it's great to see that Reggie took the high road in the situation and is here for the betterment of his team."
Sanders made a point not to talk about either player's contract situation, saying, "I only worry about what I can do out on the field," but added that "having everyone makes us a better team, no question."
And it puts away any doubt that the Colts once again will be an excellent football team. Every team can claim that the Super Bowl is their goal each season, but when it boils down, only a handful — no more than maybe eight teams — really can claim to have a legit chance at it.
The Colts are one of them. They're nearly the complete squad that led 10-0 in a Super Bowl in which they were fairly sizable favorites, and if you consider the return of Sanders and Gonzalez, they might be better. There's competition on the offensive line. There is good depth on defense. Sure, the run game needs to improve, and there are some things to iron out on special teams.
But let's put it this way: Most teams would love to have the Colts' problems. And even the players know this, that there's still something special going on with this team. And if that was the reason that Wayne and Mathis ultimately decided they had to be here, it's just one more reason why this is one of the model franchises in sports.
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