INDIANAPOLIS, IN—The Colts have a definite advantage over the Saints when it comes to championship game experience.
"There are 25 guys that are on our team that have actually been through this before. So, that does indeed help, but it doesn't give you any guarantees," commented Jim Caldwell Monday when looking forward to Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida.
However, one key position for the Colts is very in-experienced. While Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne is in his ninth NFL season and has now played in 15 post-season games, his fellow starting wide outs are getting ready for their third.
However, rookie Austin Collie and second-year man Pierre Garcon have played like seasoned veterans in the last two playoff games.
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"The term we use is young because they're not rookies anymore. Like (Austin) Collie, he's played in his 22nd ballgame. He certainly has played well. Pierre (Garcon) with 11 catches and 155 yards was big," explained Caldwell in the moments following the Colts 30-17 victory over the New York Jets.
Garcon 's 11 receptions Sunday set an AFC Championship game record. Collie shined on the biggest of stages as well, hauling in seven passes for 123 yards.
Collie is a serious student of the game. Garcon is a free spirit who always has a smile on his face. The energetic young receivers have very different personalities, but managed to sum up the AFC Championship experience in a similar fashion Sunday.
"A dream come true, to be able to come in here, and be able to get the victory and go to the Super Bowl, it's what kids dream of," said Collie amidst friends and family Sunday.
"I'd say it was probably what I fantasized about, dreamed about, but I'm glad it came to reality. Didn't know it would be this good, but I'll take it," said Garcon, not surprisingly, grinning from ear to ear.
Garcon's thoughts on his individual performance Sunday might also describe the way fans feel about the teams' talented wide-outs. There is no way anyone expected Garcon and Collie to be this good (at least this soon) but the Colts backers will certainly take it.
"It's a blessing to be here. I really appreciate it," said Garcon.
The feeling is mutual.
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Reggie Wayne's role has evolved in the last couple of years. He used to be the "other guy" lining up opposite Marvin Harrison. Injuries slowed Marvin towards the end of his career and moved Wayne to the #1 spot and made him Peyton Manning's go-to-guy. Wayne also accepted responsibility to bring along his young teammates. The more defenses respect them, the more chances Wayne would see one-on-one coverage.
"Sitting with the receiver coach (Clyde Christensen) at the beginning of year, before it all started, he sat down and said some games, you've gotta put your energy into the younger guys. You're going to have to teach them the way the whole year," said Wayne Sunday while wearing his Wayne Construction hat which also was a flashback to training camp.
"I took on that challenge. Those guys have been doing great all year, knock on wood, they've been able to stay healthy and give us opoprtunities."
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The four-play 80-yard drive late in the second quarter is a perfect example of what Wayne was talking about. Darrelle Revis was focusing his efforts on stopping Wayne, causing Peyton Manning to look at other options at a crticial point in the game. Collie delivered, catching three straight passes, including a 16-yard touchdown cutting the deficit to 17-13 at halftime.
"I'm just happy I came down with them, glad Peyton called my number," said Collie after the first 100-yard game of his brief NFL career.
Happy is a good way to describe all of the important people in this story.
Collie and Garcon are ecstatic to be in such a great situation.
Manning appreciates that he can count on them in key situations.
Caldwell is pleased with the progress they've made.
Reggie Wayne feel a sense of pride for what the "young" guys have accomplished and hopes for more in the future. Wayne echoes the sentiments of many by saying:
"Hopefully we can get it going one more time...I'm just happy to have them on my team."