He wore orange gloves that day. He was on a mission. His coach, Chuck Pagano, had been hospitalized days earlier for treatment of life-threatening leukemia. Reggie Wayne was determined to seize the moment, the game, in those orange gloves.
Again and again they flicked out, sudden as a snake's strike. Wayne's is a distinctive style; the Indianapolis Colts wide receiver hides his hands until the final fraction of a second lest they betray to the defender the football's arrival and location.
The defender much of that memorable early October afternoon was Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, a future Pro Football Hall of Fame member, and he frequently had double-team help.
No matter. Nothing mattered. Those orange gloves, representative of leukemia awareness, stabbed five passes for 64 yards on the 80-yard touchdown drive that won the game 30-27 with 35 seconds to play.
Where do you go when the air is so thick with tension even the home crowd can't spit? On third-and-9, Andrew Luck went to Wayne for 15 yards. On third-and-12, to Wayne for 15 more. On first-and-goal, one last time, Luck to Wayne, who snatched the football with three defenders converging, twisted, stretched and extended it across the goal line for the 4-yard game-winner.
The sellout crowd of 67,020 gasped, roared, then chanted: "Reggie, Reggie, Reggie, Reggie."
Wayne caught 13 passes for 212 yards. The game ball went to the hospital, to Pagano. The "mojo" the now-in-remission coach likes to talk about, to the Colts. That day began the 10-3 run that has delivered an 11-5 season.
"Big moments, he controls them," Luck said of Wayne. "He's going to make the catch. He's going to make the play. He's going to get the first down, the touchdown, whatever you need."
At 34, Wayne has had one of the finest of his 12 much-decorated seasons: 106 catches, 1,355 receiving yards, five touchdowns and a sixth Pro Bowl trip, but the numbers, pretty as they are, scarcely hint at his impact, his value.
"He is the heart and soul and leader of the offense," Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "Andrew will take that torch one day, but right now it's definitely Reggie's."Happy homecoming
It almost didn't happen.
Wayne's contract expired after the Colts 2-14 2011 season. He received no indication of interest from the team, so he packed his gear and the mementoes of 11 mostly gilded seasons and shipped them home to Miami.
It wasn't until Jan. 25, the day Pagano was hired and Wayne called to congratulate his old friend from the University of Miami, that the Colts made an appeal.
"First thing Chuck tells me," Wayne recalled, "he says, 'Thanks, Reg, but you know what? I can't do it without you.' "
There were other offers come March and that opening night of free agency, and they were more lucrative. Wayne said he walked away from millions. He followed his heart. He came home.
Wayne signed a three-year, $17.5 million contract. He pronounced himself a "Colt for life" and went straight to work.
As the seasons have progressed and the hits and mileage on Wayne's legs accumulated, he has begun the rigorous days of his offseason earlier each year.
They began at 5:30 a.m. last summer, but he was up at 4:30 for the 40-minute drive to the UM.
"When you're rolling over and snoring, I'm out there on the field," said Wayne, who goes back to 1997 with Pagano, when Wayne was a Miami player and Pagano a Hurricanes assistant coach. "When you wake up and get ready to work out, I'm back home, taking my nap or playing with my kids."
When Luck and Colts wide receivers Donnie Avery and Griff Whalen visited Miami in July to work on routes and timing, Wayne didn't deviate. His teammates arrived about 8 a.m.
"By the time they got there, I had finished my personal workout," Wayne said.
Don't think that went unnoticed. That's where to plumb the depth and value of Wayne's most vital contributions.
Ask the heart and soul of the defense about the heart and soul of the offense. Ask 10th-year outside linebacker Robert Mathis.
"He's more a show-you guy than a tell-you guy," said Mathis, who is cut from the same timber. "He's, 'Follow me. I'll show you.'
"He's that guy."
The Colts have followed, particularly the five rookies who have played so critical a role on offense: Luck, tight end Dwayne Allen, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight end Coby Fleener and running back Vick Ballard.
Or don’t ask. Observe. Watch him do all those things. Watch him block safeties and 250-pound SAM linebackers along the line of scrimmage in the most productive Colts running game since 2007.
It’s a new dimension for him, one he accepted readily. He calls himself the Colts’ honorary fullback.
"It's every day, whether it's catching balls before practice or catching balls after practice," Allen said. "I watch Reggie. I just want to work as hard as him."
Wayne answers the questions. He feels the eyes. He knows this young and star-kissed team needs more than Pro Bowl playmaking.
He knows he has become and must conduct himself as -- he struggles for the term -- "a cornerstone."
"You hear that, but this is the first time I'm actually experiencing it," he said. "I know I've got a million eyes on me. I've got to show them, this is what it is. I got to go full speed.
"And I think that's what's kind of fueled a little bit of this year. I've got to lead the way."Setting the agenda, loudly
Wayne is a warm and engaging teammate. He is fun, and he is funny.
But there is a taciturn aspect. He is comfortable alone and at ease in silence. While he commands the receivers meeting room, he does so quietly.
"He likes to sit by himself," said Hilton, Wayne's relentless interrogator. "He'll be in back. I'll be in front."
Leading the way has come naturally enough. Wayne has done the same things the same way he has for a dozen years, for most all his football life.
The talking, and on occasion the shouting, have been another matter. When it has been necessary for the Colts to raise their level, Wayne has raised his voice.
"He's talked more this year than he had in all the 11 previous years and it's helped our team in every way," Mathis said.
"At halftime (of the Green Bay game), he kind of jumped the whole team for not being up to the challenge.
How could they not?
Wayne caught six passes for 104 yards during the first half that day but the Colts trailed 21-3. He shouted. He cajoled. He challenged. Then he caught seven more passes for another 108 yards over the final 30 minutes.
His teammates followed his voice and his lead. They came back that afternoon and they have continually come back this season.
"The best time here was winning the Super Bowl (following the 2006 season)," Wayne said. "That's it. But at the same time, this year is right up there with it.
"Guys have just been a team, locked in, enjoying each other. This has been the happiest locker room of my 12 years here. It's been fun, man. These young guys, they keep me laughing."
The Colts journey to Baltimore on Sunday for the wildest of wild card games: from 2-14 to 11-5.
Ask Wayne's young teammates if they would be there without him.
"No," said Hilton.
"No," said Allen.
"Absolutely not," said Luck, who paused, then added, "I guess I don't know, but everything in me says no."
The Colts play for their season Sunday. Wayne's hands will flicker and strike, and if necessary, he will raise his voice.
Luck calls him the "bell cow."
Arians calls him the "pied piper."
Pagano calls him a "pillar guy."
The home crowd calls him, "Reggie, Reggie, Reggie . . . "
You consider his eminent career and this so splendid season on so many levels. They're all right.