INDIANAPOLIS — Reggie Wayne has an emphatic message for his Colts teammates. He’s got bigger plans.
Less than 12 months after taking less money to play for a team in major rebuilding mode and then leading it back to the playoffs as he had promised, Wayne has started concocting all sorts of grand possibilities in his mind.
‘‘If all goes well, if my dreams are correct, I won’t be playing in this [Pro Bowl] game. I have a bigger game to play in and my dreams normally come true,’’ Wayne said with a chuckle after earning his sixth Pro Bowl selection. ‘‘Let’s hope that this one is headed in that direction.’’
Wayne is no mentalist, just a good-natured optimist and a key reason Indianapolis (11-5) is hitting the road to face AFC North champion Baltimore (10-6) in a wild-card round game Sunday.
Clearly, the Colts needed Wayne’s presence this season and not just because of his skills on the field.
He showed this young, unproven offense what it takes to excel in the NFL, how to stick around a while, and what it means to play this game with purpose and passion. The results have been nothing short of remarkable.
Quarterback Andrew Luck set NFL rookie records for most yards passing and most attempts. He tied the NFL season mark for game-winning fourth-quarter drives, broke Peyton Manning’s franchise rookie mark for completions, set a new Colts record for rushing TDs by a quarterback, and presided over a historic turnaround.
Indy’s rookies also combined for 3,108 yards rushing and receiving, the most of any team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, according to STATS LLC.
And at age 34, Wayne gave no indication he was slowing down. The New Orleans native hauled in 106 receptions for 1,355 yards — the second-best marks of his career — and tied Marvin Harrison for the franchise’s most 1,000-yard seasons (eight). He moved into the top 10 on the NFL’s reception list (968), the top 15 in yards receiving (13,063), and broke the NFL record for most consecutive games with three or more catches (64), all while putting football into perspective for these rookies.
‘‘Reggie really is the leader of the offense,’’ Luck said. ‘‘Everything he does helps us out. He sets a great example for all the young, new guys that are on the team — myself included — and he is a lot of fun to throw the ball to.’’
When it comes to work, though, Wayne is all business.
During the first week of training camp, he hung around after practice in the blazing sun to catch balls from the Jugs machine. He started by himself. Each day, though, the crowd increased and within days, seemingly every receiver on the team was waiting behind one of the NFL’s top receivers.
That didn’t change when the Colts returned to their team complex.
‘‘You know his professionalism, I think that’s big especially with the young group on that side of the ball,’’ safety Antoine Bethea said when asked what Wayne’s most important contribution has been. ‘‘Just showing them how to be a professional, how to be a pro . . . You see him in the weight room, but you’d never know anything is wrong with him because he’s out there every day on the practice field and you can count on him every Sunday.’’
‘Reggie really is the leader of the offense. Everything he does helps us out. He sets a great example for all the young, new guys that are on the team.’
But it almost didn’t work out.
Two days before Indy’s miserable 2-14 season ended in 2011 and about to become an unrestricted free agent, Wayne packed up his locker, took down his nameplate, and spoke somberly to reporters as if his career in Indy was about to end.
The Colts did send many of Wayne’s longtime teammates — including Manning, running back Joseph Addai, and tight end Dallas Clark — packing in March. Some signed free agent contracts with other teams, and most figured that with Indianapolis going young and trying to shed big-dollar contracts, Wayne would go somewhere else, too.
That’s when new coach Chuck Pagano, who befriended Wayne when the two were at the University of Miami, made a personal request.
‘‘Basically I told him, I said I don’t want to do this without you,’’ Pagano said. ‘‘I said, ‘If we’re going to get this thing done and move forward and get back to the winning ways that this organization and certainly our fans in the community are used to, we need you back. I want to do this with you. We all want you back.’ ’’
After reflecting on Pagano’s words, Wayne turned down more money from other teams and re-signed with the Colts for three years and $17.5 million so he could help the franchise reestablish itself as a Super Bowl contender.
‘‘This is the journey that all teams want to take,’’ Wayne said. ‘‘This is the approach that we wanted. We wanted to give ourselves a chance.’’