INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Game days are starting to look awfully familiar for Hakeem Nicks.
His first appearance with the Colts came at MetLife Stadium, his former home venue. On Saturday, the 26-year-old receiver will make his home debut against his former team at Lucas Oil Stadium, the site where he and the Giants won their last Super Bowl.
Nicks has been around the NFL long enough to understand there are more important things than nostalgia when it comes to preseason football. He’s trying to prove he can stay healthy, still play and that he fits into the Colts’ offense. But there’s nothing quite like getting a chance to do that against the team that let him walk away in free agency.
“It will be an experience, but I’m looking forward to it,” Nicks said before Indianapolis headed home from training camp Wednesday.
Earlier this week, Nicks made a spectacular one-handed catch in the back corner of the end zone, a reminder of why the Giants took him in the first round of the 2009 draft. Over the next three seasons, he developed such a good rapport with
Eli Manning that he topped 1,000 yards twice, hauled in 24 touchdowns and become a key part of New York’s Super Bowl run following the 2011 season.
Injuries cost him three games in 2012, slicing his yardage total and TD receptions in half. Last year, he battled injuries again and finished without a touchdown catch for the first time in his pro career, prompting speculation in New York that Nicks wasn’t trying or didn’t care.
Indianapolis didn’t buy it.
“Anytime people say things like that and try to discuss your character, I think it takes a toll on anyone,” Giants receiver Victor Cruz said. “I think it did for him and I think it’s something that he wants to prove wrong and show that he’s a team guy and show he gives his all on every play and show that he gives his all for his teammates. I think a fresh start for him in Indianapolis is going to be just that.”
The guys Nicks used to practice against — cornerback Prince Amukamara, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka and safety Antrel Rolle — probably won’t have to contend with him for long Saturday.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano is planning to use his starters only about one quarter Saturday night. He hasn’t said whether Reggie Wayne will be held out of his second straight game as he continues to recover from a torn ACL in his right knee..
Giants coach Tom Coughlin is following a similar script, perhaps playing his starters about 1 1/2 quarters.
But this is not just another meaningless preseason trip for New York.
The game will extend a streak of having at least one Manning start in Lucas Oil every season since it opened in 2008. And it’s the first trip New York has made to Indy since its Super Bowl win.
“We’re excited to go back there and, obviously, to see Hakeem and to be in that locker room where we were,” Cruz said. “We’re excited for that opportunity and to see Hakeem again is an added bonus.”
Nicks won’t be the only Super Bowl-winning Giant on Indy’s sideline.
Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw scored the winning touchdown for the Giants in that game, though it’s unclear whether he’ll play after wearing a non-contact jersey in practice all week. Bradshaw had season-ending neck surgery in October.
Indy fans will see some familiar faces in Giants’ uniforms, too.
Curtis Painter, whose lost fumble against the Jets in 2009 helped dash Indy’s hopes of a perfect season and whose struggles in 2011 as Peyton Manning’s replacement led to the transition to Andrew Luck, will be the second quarterback in the game for New York. Kiwanuka, safety Stevie Brown and punter Steve Weatherford all played high school in Indiana, too.
But for Nicks, this is not about reminiscing. It’s about competing.
“I felt like I got off to a great start and I want to have a stronger finish,” Nicks said. “I love the way the fans embraced us and everything was good.”