By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO - The Patriots made two shrewd picks in the 2001 NFL Draft - Richard Seymour at No. 6 and Matt Light at No. 48.
But the need for a wideout back then was such that there was much lobbying outside Foxboro Stadium for the Patriots to pull the trigger on someone to help bail out Drew Bledsoe.
Reggie Wayne went 30th to the Colts that year. Now, we're not trying to roll back history and say the Patriots "missed" on Wayne. But he was known as a technically proficient route-runner at Miami with magnificent hands and - for the past 12 seasons - he's been as reliable as the sunrise.
He'll turn 34 on Saturday and his numbers this year with the newly remade Colts make him seem like a latter-day Art Monk.
He's got 69 catches so far this season and - by the end of the year - he'll be darn close to 1,000 for his career (he has 931). You could say, "if he stays healthy" but that's the other thing about Wayne. He hasn't missed a game since his rookie year.
And this year, he's been reinvented a little bit. After spending much of his career as Marvin Harrison's partner-in-crime on the receiving end of throws from Peyton Manning, Wayne re-upped with the Colts for the Andrew Luck era. And he's been terrific operating with Luck in the system that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians brought with him from Pittsburgh
"They moved him around a little in the past, but not much," said Bill Belichick. "And now he's Hines Ward. They motion him a lot, he's blocking, cracking, he's lining up close to the formation, he's in the slot, he's doing a lot of things that Hines Ward did in Pittsburgh.
"It's interesting to see him in that role, but he's always been good at whatever he's done," he said. "You see him work the middle of the field on middle reads, and on option routes or that kind of thing, or working on the perimeter. He's good at all of it."
Wayne had 75 catches last season with a collection of ineffective Colts quarterbacks throwing to him. But Belichick is quick to point out that Wayne wasn't responsible for his drop below 80 catches for the first time since 2004.
"I don't really see Reggie Wayne much differently than I saw him in the past," Belichick stated. "He was good then, he's good now. There were some issues with the quarterback and passing game and all that, but I didn't see any dropoff in Reggie Wayne as a football player. Maybe I missed it, but he's always looked pretty good to me."
Good enough so that the Patriots made an offseason run at signing Wayne before he returned to Indy.
Belichick told the Indianapolis media on Wednesday he believes Wayne is having a "Hall of Fame career."
Arians, who's been the Colts interim head coach in place of Chuck Pagano, makes it clear that Wayne's influence has extended far beyond his 69 receptions.
Arians mentioned that, a couple of weeks back, there were eight first-year players on the field during Indy's winning drive against the Dolphins.
"(The) rookies have followed the pied piper, and thats Reggie Wayne," said Arians. "He sets the tempo for us offensively and then Andrew is the second guy in line. If he can handle it, then they can handle it and Reggie makes sure that the receiving corps and everybody else is ready to go."
Arians said there was little doubt Wayne would return to Indy.
"Hes a Colt and he wanted to be a Colt bad. Hes a legend here and hes going to go into the Hall of Fame," Arians predicted. "Im really lucky because Ive gotten a chance to have my second receiver catch 1,000 passes and maybe get to two induction ceremonies (Hines Ward being the other). He always wanted to be here and as soon as Chuck made that call, it was just a matter of, Yeah Im coming. He knew what he was getting into and I think hes excited more than anybody with the change hes a rookie in this offense too because he sat out on the left side for 10 years and now hes all over the place, running routes that hes never run before. So hes jumped in and hes really excited about it. You cant put a quantified value on how much his leadership means to our team."
Like every season, this year's MVP debate will revolve around the best players on the best teams or the ones who put up eye-popping individual numbers.
So far, though, no player's been more valuable in more ways than Wayne's been to Indy.