Chuck Pagano, like most head coaches in the National Football League, has become more or less accustomed to players getting hurt and having to miss significant time during a season. Unfortunately, that’s just part of the game.
But the news Monday that wide receiver Reggie Wayne has been lost to a season-ending knee injury hit a little closer to home for Pagano for purely personal reasons.
Wayne and Pagano have become close, both as coach and player on the college level at Miami and in the NFL with Indianapolis. They are also good friends off the field.
When the 34-year old wide receiver went down with an apparent sprained right knee in the latter stages of Sunday night’s game with Denver, which the Colts won 39-33, most observers knew Wayne’s immediate future didn’t look good.
As quarterback Andrew Luck remarked Monday afternoon, Wayne usually doesn’t stay down on the ground for very long after a play. He usually pops right back up and is quickly back in the huddle.
But Pagano acknowledged what nobody really wanted to hear: the 13-year veteran is out for the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. There are reports that Wayne incurred a torn meniscus as well, although that has not been confirmed by team officials.
“We hate to lose anybody [to injury], but this one stings,” Pagano said. “You just don’t replace guys like [No.] 87. And again we hate to lose anybody. But he’ll be back.
“I know how he’s wired. And I know what his DNA is, know how he is as a man. Everybody’s going to say, ‘No way [to a return next season].’ But after the conversation I had with him, just wait and see. So we’ll put on the gloves for Reggie and we’ll help him get through this. We’ll get him back.”
After he undergoes surgery, which has yet to be scheduled, Wayne will remain a valuable member of the Colts organization this season.
“He’s going to have to have something done, surgically, but what I told him is that whether it’s on a stretcher, a wheelchair, we have to carry him in and out, he’ll be there [with the team] every step of the way,” Pagano said. “He’s a pro through and through. I told those young [receivers] to get in his hip pocket and follow him. Do exactly what he does on a daily basis. Do you stick around [in the NFL] for a long time? Want to be productive?
“You want to write your own legacy? You want to be a guy in the NFL and not an also-ran? Then just do exactly what Reggie does. From a leadership standpoint, mentoring standpoint, it’s off the charts.”
While talking about Wayne’s injury, the second-year head coach became emotional.
“We’ve known each other for a long, long time. The way he is, the first thing out of his mouth is that he feels as if he let his teammates down because he can’t be there now,” Pagano explained, his voice barely above a whisper.
“That’s how unselfish this guy is. He could give a hoot about the numbers, all that stuff. He just wants to play and help us win a championship. That’s what he’s dealing with right now. I don’t feel any worse than the rest of [those] guys in the locker room and from the owner on down about what happened to him. It’s a travesty.”
• Luck feels responsible — The Colts quarterback feels as if Wayne’s injury might have been avoided if he had come up with a better pass on the play.
“It was play-action. A couple defenders ran into each other. I know [fullback] Stanley Havili ended up open in the flat. I did the pump fake and the [defensive] guy jumped in the air. I stepped up and made a poor throw.
“I know, I think, looking back at it again [Monday], there was literally nobody within 30 yards of [Wayne]. He probably would have scored if I had actually given him a decent ball,” Luck recalled. “So I feel somewhat responsible for the whole thing. … I don’t think Reggie wants me to holding it over my head or that it happened. After the game, though, a big part of me felt like it was almost a loss in a sense because of what happened to Reggie and my involvement in it.”
n Wayne added to the list — The Colts wide receiver becomes the team’s fifth offensive starter to be sidelined for the season.
Wayne joins offensive guard Donald Thomas (quad), tight end Dwayne Allen (foot), running back Vick Ballard (knee) and running back Ahmad Bradshaw (neck).
• Looking ahead — So what are the Colts plans moving forward in an effort to replace the irreplaceable Wayne?
While Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson is expected to do his due diligence and scan the NFL’s waiver wires for potential roster additions, the initial help is expected to come from the team’s own roster.
Wide receivers LaVon Brazill and David Reed are already on the active list. Then there are Griff Whalen and Da’Rick Rogers, who are currently on the practice squad. They’ll be the Colts’ first options.
T.Y. Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey are expected to carry the biggest load as starters with hopes that Brazill, Reed, Whalen or Rogers will be able to help pick up the slack.
“We’ll see who steps up and I’m more than confident in the guys we have,” Luck said. “They’ve done a heck of a job and they’ll continue to do so.”
• Injury list — Besides Wayne, center Samson Satele (knee), cornerback Darius Butler (calf), cornerback Greg Toler (groin), cornerback Josh Gordy (groin), safety Delano Howell (neck), inside linebacker Mario Harvey (hamstring) and outside linebacker Cam Johnson (ankle) were also injured over the course of the Denver game.
Satele’s magnetic resonance imaging test was negative and he is listed as day-to-day. The Colts are still waiting to hear about test results on Toler, Gordy, Howell and Harvey. Johnson’s injury is not considered to be serious.
• McAfee to be fined? — It’s very possible that NFL officials will issue a fine to Pat McAfee for his takedown of Broncos kickoff specialist Trindon Holliday on Sunday night.
Holliday had returned a McAfee kickoff 56 yards in the first quarter before the two-way kicker knocked him out of bounds. The tackle drew a large ovation from the fans in attendance at the game and has become a YouTube favorite.
The fine would be for leading with his head during the tackle and making contact with Holliday’s helmet.
In describing his technique as a tackler, the punter had a bit of smile on his face Monday afternoon.
“I just kind of run as fast as I can with my eyes closed and hope he ends up in front of me,” McAfee said. “Trindon Holliday is so impressive and so good and so fast, that when you’re slow and unathletic, you have to kind of work the angles. And that’s what happened.”
• Time off — With the Colts having a bye week on Sunday, Pagano gave the team the rest of the week off.
“They earned it. They’ve been grinding … what they’ve done to this point, they earned that extra time off,” Pagano said.
“We’ve got a great group, we’ve got great leaders and I trust everyone will take care of themselves and do the right things and get away and have time to recharge, take care of their bodies, get healthy, be with family, re-connect with whoever they need to re-connect with. We’ll get back in here a week from today and go back to work, get ready for Houston.”
Players are not expected back until next Monday.
“With our veteran leadership, the guys know that if don’t handle the privilege of having these days off, you’re not answering to the coaches or the [general manager]. You’ll be answering to Robert Mathis, you’re answering to Cory Redding. That’s scary,” Luck said.
“We may be young in certain areas but we’re not an immature team. Guys know what’s at stake. And I don’t see anybody in using this [time off] in a bad way.”