Wide receiver Wayne Chrebet will always be known as the ultimate underdog thanks to his legendary career with the New York Jets.
In the slow news days leading up to New York Jets training camp, I often find myself reflecting on the years went by and the players that made them worth watching. As many of my readers will already know, I enjoy rooting for the underdog. This year I decided to look at the ultimate underdog in wide receiver Wayne Chrebet.
Chrebet came to the Jets as a walk on when the franchise held training camp at Hofstra University on Long Island. Chrebet played his collegiate ball at Hofstra, but despite breaking several school records, he was never considered an NFL prospect. He went undrafted following the 1995 NFL Draft.
Chrebet wasn’t signed by any team as an undrafted free agent and turned to the Canadian Football League for employment. He managed to get a tryout with the Baltimore Stallions but was cut the next day. Out of options, he asked and was granted a tryout by the Jets.
A walk on from Hofstra, the odds were tremendously stacked against him. A long-told story tells how a security guard stopped him at the gate of the team’s facility, believing he was too small to be an actual NFL player. According to the story, team officials had to be summoned to the gate to confirm his identity. Whether the story is accurate or not, it portrays the difficulty that Chrebet faced being taken seriously in NFL circles.
To everyone’s amazement, he quickly showed the Jets coaching staff a skill set nobody expected him to have. He had a solid rookie training camp, catching everything thrown his way and an elusiveness after the catch. At 5’10” and 188 pounds, the ultimate underdog made the teams 53 man roster and shocked more than a few NFL analysts.
Chrebet showed tenacity on the football field and quickly became a fan favorite. His play garnered him nicknames from the media and his teammates alike. The sports industry deemed him the name the “Green Lantern” while teammates crowned him “Mr. Third Down” due to how clutch he was. No matter what they called him, Chrebet worked hard, played even harder and became a leader in the locker room as well.
In his rookie season, Chrebet appeared in all sixteen games for the Jets. His elusiveness and knack for finding open spots in opposing defenses allowed him to record 66 receptions. Those receptions averaged eleven yards per catch and were good for 726 yards and four touchdowns. As a result, the newspaper Newsday and its readers named him “Jets Player of the Year”.
Chrebet was only beginning to make his mark in the NFL. The following year, he bettered his rookie mark by producing 84 receptions, 909 yards, and three touchdowns. Chrebet, the ultimate underdog, was no longer an afterthought to opposing defenses, he was proving to be the real deal.
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Chrebet went on to have an unbelievable career for the Jets. He played eleven electrifying years for the franchise.
Putting up a career total of 580 receptions, 7,365 yards, averaging 12.7 yards per catch and 41 touchdowns.
An amazing accomplishment for a player nobody wanted, through hard work and determination Chrebet went from an unknown to being inducted into the “Jets Ring of Honor” in 2014. His accomplishments make him the ultimate underdog in team history.
Chrebet’s career ended after a series of serious concussions that forced him from the game in 2006. Not one to sit still after retirement, Chrebet entered the world of finance. He signed on with a financial company and within ten years he was running $1.5B of assets for the company which he became a partner. Among his many clients are professional players looking to manage their money. His hard work, determination, and leadership made him a success during, and after the game.
He remains a fan favorite among Jets fans that saw him play. He has stayed close to the organization since retiring. Chrebet is often sighted at Jets alumni events and has been known to attend games at the invite of Jets owner Woody Johnson. He has a passion for harness racing and has been involved in the sport since 2003.
Chrebet beat all the odds in becoming a successful football player. He played the game unselfishly and with all he could muster. He stood out from bigger, faster receivers and became a threat to opposing defenses. His determination became inspirational to those that played the game with him and those of us that watched from the stands. The ultimate underdog became the ultimate Jet. Thanks for the memories Mr. Chrebet!