Reggie Wayne entered Sunday’s game just 41 days away from his 34th birthday.
Traditionally, that would mean his best days are behind him. That would mean that he was about 3-4 years past his peak.
This of course is even more expected when you consider that Wayne lost his quarterback last season, and produced the statistically worst season since 2003. With Peyton Manning leaving for good this past offseason, and rookie coming to Indianapolis, Wayne’s numbers were very likely going to keep declining as he aged. A better career move may have been to find a contender to finish off his career with.
Reggie Wayne decided not to take that route.
Instead, he signed a three-year, $17.5 million contract with the Colts, and opted to return to help lead the team into a new era.
Wayne has been an unquestioned leader, a fan favorite and a key part in the development of the Colts’ young players, but that was expected. What wasn’t expected was for Wayne to start the 2012 season better than he has for his entire career, culminating with a record day in a comeback win versus the Packers.
After the emotional win, Wayne told reporters that he wanted to put his heart and soul into the game for head coach Chuck Pagano, much like the Kellen Winslow Sr. did in the fabled Epic in Miami.
Looking at the numbers, he did a pretty good job of it.
On that humid, injury-filled night in 1982, Winslow ended the emotional game with 13 catches for 166 yards and touchdown, seven of those passes for first downs. He also had a blocked field goal to send the game into overtime, a remarkable play to epitomize a remarkable performance.
Wayne may not have suffered the same physical torture that Winslow, who was treated for pinched nerves, dehydration, cramps, and a gash, but Wayne performed just as well as the Hall of Fame tight end, amassing 13 catches for 212 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
The ability to continually pull down catch after catch, especially in the fourth quarter when everybody in the stadium knew the ball was going to the 12-year vet, was incredible. It was fitting that the game-winning play would come with Wayne reaching, fighting to just barely cross the ball over the goal line.
Wayne became just the 22nd player in league history to record a game with 13+ catches and 200+ yards. More impressively, he became the oldest player to ever achieve such a feat, surpassing Jerry Rice’s age in 1995 by 268 days.
Perhaps even more impressively, such an accomplishment has only been achieved by five players over thirty years old in NFL history; Reggie Wayne has now done it twice (2010 vs Dallas: 14 catches, 200 yds).
But this isn’t something that Wayne’s just started doing this week; he’s been dominating all season.
Through four games, Wayne has 36 catches for 506 yards and two touchdowns. He’s just the third player in NFL history to have such a start to a season, and once again, he’s the oldest.
Since 2000, Wayne is the leader in 4th quarter receiving yards with over 3200, and he added to that total on Sunday with 90 more on six catches, bringing his total to 165 so far this season.
Wayne is on pace for over 2000 yards; the league record is 1848 by Jerry Rice in 1995. He’s on pace for 144 catches, which would be one more than former teammate Marvin Harrison’s record in 2002.
What are the best seasons for somebody Wayne’s age? Rice’s 1995 season is close, with 1848 yards and 122 catches, but Rice was about 9 months younger than Wayne (and it was only his 11th season). The best for anyone who was actually Wayne’s age would be Rice’s 108 catches in 1996, and Marvin Harrison’s 1366 yard season in 2006.
I don’t expect Wayne to keep up with his current pace all season, but the fact that it’s been so good for these first four weeks is phenomenal, and a testament to how great of a receiver, even into his twilight years, he really is.
The pure logjam at receiver may keep Wayne from ever getting in to the Hall of fame, but he’s in the top 20 in both yards and receptions for a career, and if he keeps playing like he has for the last four weeks, he could feasibly get into the top 10 in catches by the end of the season, and in the top 15 in yards.
I’m not advocating for his HOF spot here, but I am advocating for people to keep watching Reggie Wayne.
Even at 33, going on 34, he’s not letting age slow him down.
In fact, he’s doing exactly the opposite.