Nice to see such a great player take the role player attitude and not get caught up in the stats so much. I'd love to see Stokley return to his 2004 statistics, but just having him around is obviously good for leadership and morale.
INDIANAPOLIS – Brandon Stokley has a simple goal. And because that goal is always on his mind, he said the inevitable statistical highs and lows don’t much affect his mood during a season.
Ten receptions in a game? Or two?
One week as a critical component in the Colts’ offense?
The next, barely a look his way?
That was Stokley’s reality last season when – a year removed from setting career highs in every major statistical category – his individual numbers reduced dramatically.
None of which bothered him, he said, and there was a simple reason for it.
It didn’t matter. Not a bit.
“I was trying to get us a Super Bowl ring here,” Stokley said recently. “That’s the ultimate and that’s my concern. Whatever the coaches think I can do to enable us to win games, and be the best offense that Sunday, let’s go with it.
“I’m about winning, being productive and trying to get a Super Bowl. That’s my ultimate goal every year – to win a Super Bowl. Not to catch 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.”
Stokley, since signing with the Colts as an unrestricted free agent from Baltimore before the 2003 season, has generally accomplished his goal of making the Colts’ offense a more productive unit.
Since returning from a series of injuries in 2003, Stokley – typically playing as the team’s third receiver – has played in 34 of 35 possible regular-season games, catching 126 passes for 1,787 yards and 14 touchdowns during that span.
His presence as a third receiver is vital to the Colts’ offense, giving quarterback Peyton Manning a dependable option in addition to wide receivers Reggie Wayne and seven-time Pro Bowl selection Marvin Harrison.
What has separated Stokley from many third receivers, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said, is relatively rare ability to not play for extended periods, then enter the game “cold” without losing effectiveness.
It’s a gift, Stokley said, that’s something more than a gift.
“I think I’ve kind of learned that since I’ve gotten to the NFL,” said Stokley, who played for the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2002. “In college, you play every play. Once I got into the NFL, you kind of have to learn your role. My role was I really wasn’t the starter, even in Baltimore. So you come in off the bench and you’re like the sixth man.
“When your number’s called, you have to step up and make the play. Whether it’s the second quarter, or if you’ve been in there a long time, or if you haven’t been in a long time, it’s kind of ingrained in me. That’s how I approach the game. I don’t know how many plays I’m going to play, or if I’m going to be in there a lot or a little, so I just take that approach.
“When my number’s called, I need to be ready to go.”
There’s more to doing so than having a knack, Stokley said. When not on the field with the offense, Stokley said he gets each play from backup quarterback Jim Sorgi. That way, he said, “I can see what the guys are doing and try to help them out if I can at all.
“It helps out if you feel like you’re part of it, and if I can help Reggie or Marvin out by maybe giving them anything you see, then that’s a positive, too,” Stokley said.
The statistical spoils of that approach came in 2004, when Stokley played a crucial role in Manning’s push for an NFL-record 49 touchdown passes in a single season. Harrison, Wayne and Stokley became the first receiving trio in NFL history to all finish a season with at least 1,000 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns, and Stokley set career-highs with 68 receptions for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns.
His final touchdown that season was the most memorable, a 21-yarder from Manning and the quarterback’s record 49th of the season.
Last year was a different scenario for Stokley.
He caught seven passes for 83 yards in an opening-game victory over Baltimore, but after that, defenses played more defenders off the line of scrimmage against the Colts than in seasons past. Partly as a result, Stokley finished the season with 41 receptions for 543 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came in the season finale against Arizona.
At times, opportunities were few for Stokley, enough so that it became a topic in the local media after several games. What it never was, Stokley said, was an issue of concern for him.
“I’m the type of guy that says, ‘This is what I do,’’’ Stokley said. “It works for me. A lot of receivers feel like they have to go somewhere and be the ‘No. 1 Guy.’ This is a great situation for me, being in this offense and playing with these guys.
“That’s kind of my approach to it – that I don’t have to be the first or second receiver, and I don’t have to play 50-to-60 plays a game to be happy and to feel like I’m part of it. Sure, I’d like to, but I kind of know my role on this team and know what to expect and I enjoy it.”
But somewhere, deep down, wasn’t 2004 just plain fun?
“It was,” he said, laughing. “From a personal standpoint, I had the most fun I’d ever had playing football. But I’ll take last year and a Super Bowl win or less catches and less yards than last year and a Super Bowl win.
“It doesn’t get better than that, winning the Super Bowl. That’s the ultimate. I’ve been there once (with Baltimore after the 2000 season) and done it.
“Once you do it, there’s nothing that compares to it.’
A chance to get that feeling again, Stokley said, is the reason for playing, and the reason it’s easy to keep his goals in order.
“I know going in that how much I play, and how many chances I get, is going to depend on what teams are doing, and what’s going to be successful for our offense,” Stokley said. “It’s not like I’m going in there blindsided and thinking I’m playing 50 plays a game.