Reggie Wayne's season-ending injury is unfair. There's no other way to look at it.
It's unfair to Wayne, a superstar who has made a career of tempering any selfishness or ego for the good of the Indianapolis Colts. He played No.1A receiver to No.1 Marvin Harrison even after he'd passed Harrison in production and value. He played No.1A to Peyton Manning, even as he bailed the quarterback out at times with spectacular catches. He played No.1A – or vice president, in his words – to Andrew Luck after the new kid came to town.
It's unfair to Colts fans because they had to digest Manning's emotional return, the Colts' huge win over the Denver Broncos and Wayne's injury in one roller-coaster night.
The torn ACL that was feared when Wayne went down in the fourth quarter Sunday night was confirmed as reality around high noon Monday. Wayne told coach Chuck Pagano he'll fight his way back. It'll be a long, tough fight for a guy turning 35 next month.
Wayne is one of those players you can't help but root for on the field. He's a teammate's teammate, the most popular, sharpest-dressed, best-looking guy on the block who befriends everyone and treats them all the same.
Remember his defense of, and belief in, Curtis Painter? Wayne had Curtis Painter's back when everyone else wanted to kick Painter out on his backside. It didn't save Painter's job, but it spoke to Wayne's character. Remember, too, when Wayne caught that touchdown pass from Dan Orlovsky to beat Houston at the end of the lost 2011 season? Wayne wasn't worried about spoiling a shot at the No.1 draft pick. He plays to win.
Remember, more poignantly, Wayne's support of Pagano during Pagano's fight with leukemia, when Wayne searched to find some orange gloves to send his message of affection for the first year-coach?
Pagano plans to return the gesture, saying he and the team will wear gloves for Wayne.
Pagano talked with Wayne on Monday after his season was lost.
“The first thing out of his mind is he feels he let his teammates down because he can't be there,” Pagano said Monday. “That's how unselfish he is. He just wants to play and help us win a championship.”
Here's another example that comes to mind: Remember, after the 2011 season, when the Colts underwent the big purge? Goodbye Manning, Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, Gary Brackett, Joseph Addai and on and on? Remember how the Colts put their priority on trying to resign wide receiver Pierre Garcon while Wayne seemed to be put on the backburner? Maybe it wasn't quite that way, but that was the perception. Then Garcon took bigger money from Washington.
The Colts turned to Wayne and he came back, relishing the chance to continue and probably finish his career with the Colts.
Wayne's injury is unfair, as all injuries are, and even more maddening because it happened in a non-contact move. He was trying to cut back Sunday, trying to grab an off-target Luck pass. His knee twisted awkwardly. It looked as bad as it was. The sight of any player in extreme pain is a bad one. After 189 straight games played, Wayne as next-man-down was almost impossible to process.
Pagano said he can tell in Wayne's eyes how serious he is about returning to play again. Wayne recently joined an exclusive club of NFL receivers who have caught at least 1,000 passes.
It's unfair to think that Wayne's great career, among the best in NFL history, could be cut short on a short cut.
“He's not going out like this,” Pagano said. “He's not going to leave this game like this. There's no way. So he'll fight, he'll get his surgery, he'll rehab and he'll grind like nobody's ever grinded and he'll do whatever it takes to get back on that football field, even if it's to catch one more pass or make one more block to help this football organization. But he's not going out like this.”
Injuries happen every day in the NFL. Sometimes, in the course of violent collisions, they're understandable. Wayne's injury make no such sense.
Wayne belongs on the field, making one-handed catches and soaking in the “Reg-gie! Reg-gie!” chants. He belongs in the locker room, playing the wily veteran role, teaching youngsters like T.Y. Hilton how to be great and humble at the same time. Good guys should finish first.
Wayne's season is over. Unfair, from all angles.