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Thanks For The Memories, Wayne

By Mark Cannizzaro
Jets Insider.com Head Writer
November 9th, 2005
Jets WR Wayne Chrebet will always be an inspiration to every longshot NFL player. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Jets WR Wayne Chrebet will always be an inspiration to every longshot NFL player. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Every year, sometime shortly after the NFL Draft, the local teams send out releases to announce the large list of free agents they've signed.

Every couple of years, those releases include a local kid with a long-shot chance to make the team. It's usually some star from C.W. Post or Fordham or Columbia or Rutgers or Hofstra.

As cynical sports writers, many of us initially look at it as a decent little local story and nothing more. The local long shots never really have a chance to make the NFL rosters.

Wayne Chrebet was one of those local stories that came across my desk back in 1995. Hofstra receiver. Prolific numbers in college. Signed by the Jets.

I can honestly say I didn't think much about it. The local boy makes good stories can become a bit cliché, particularly when they never really have a legitimate chance to make it.

I banged out a short write-up for the New York Post and figured the next time I mentioned his name in print would be the day he was released, probably in the first cuts.

Chrebet, of course, would turn out to be different, quite a bit different.

After realizing he might be around for awhile, I first introduced myself to Chrebet while writing a piece for The Post on long shots with a chance to make the Jets' roster. I picked three or four rookie free agents who were having good training camps and might have a chance to make the final roster. Chrebet was one of them.

We spoke over at the Hofstra cafeteria for the interview. I remember Chrebet being was polite, but somewhat nonplussed by the publicity he was about to get. I thought that a bit odd for a guy who, despite his prolific collegiate career, probably didn't get much media attention.

Chrebet, of course, not only ended up making it; he climbed his way from the bottom of the receiver depth chart to become the opening-day starter for Rich Kotite.

The rest of his remarkable career is history, particularly now that it has come to an end with his latest concussion, suffered in last Sunday's game.

While it sickens you to see how it came to an end _ with his helmet slamming to the turf and dazing him to the point where he needed help not only walking off the field but changing out of his uniform later in the locker room _ you have to love the play on which the injury occurred.

It was pure Wayne Chrebet. It was the symbol of what he's been since he first arrived on out sporting doorstep.

He leaped high in the air with no regard for the well-being of his body, determined to make the catch, which he did. It went for six yards on a third-and-five and the Jets on a desperate comeback march toward the goal line.

And, when Chrebet's body _ and the back of his helmet _ was driven into the ground by Chargers' cornerback Jerry Wilson, he held onto the ball despite essentially being knocked unconscious.

It was the only way for Chrebet's career to end.

It would have been sad to see him sitting on the bench dormant for the latter part of his career.

In the end, Chrebet went out exactly the way he came in _ making an eye-opening, overachieving play that produced a critical first down for his team.

No announcement has been made about his impending retirement. It's too soon for that. Chrebet's head is probably still pounding; his stomach overcome by nausea. He'll emerge and speak publicly in due time, when it's right for him.

As for the remote prospect of playing again, consider this: Chrebet, by his own admission, had to just about beg his wife, Amy, to approve of him coming back to play this season.

Truth is, Chrebet probably shouldn't have come back for the 2004 season after the terrible post-concussion syndrome issues he had that ended his 2003 season eight games prematurely.

Now, even his closest friends in the Jets' locker room fear for his well-being and want him to retire.

"I'd like to see him retire healthy,'' Vinny Testaverde, who's completed 231 passes to Chrebet, said of his close friend. "Whatever the reason, we all don't get to choose when we retire. Some guys do, but the majority don't. Eleven seasons he's played? That's a long time. I've been very lucky, very blessed. But from a receiver's standpoint, that's probably just as long."

Testaverde found himself scared for Chrebet when he watched the Giants Stadium video replay screens and saw Chrebet's dazed look after the hit he took.

"You see the faraway stare, the frozen look in his eyes, the way his legs stiffened up," Testaverde said. "Not speaking for Wayne, but sometimes you come to the realization that it's time, to say, 'I've had a great career, nothing wrong with hanging it up, walking away.'

"Life goes on. That's what we all want _ we want life to continue. We want to be functional, be able to watch our kids grow and play with them."

Chrebet is married to the former Amy Wick, whom he met at Hofstra and took to Burger King on their first date. They now have two sons and a beautiful home in Colts Neck, N.J.

Chrebet owns horses and has done very well financially with off-the-field investments. He's gotten everything he can out of the game of football and now it's time to get away while he can still enjoy Amy, the kids and his parents.

"When it's in your blood, it's in your heart,'' Testaverde said of the game. "As football players, you feel you're invincible at times. It's what keeps you going back on the field, especially him.

"The odds were stacked against him early in his career, everybody saying he was too small, he wasn't big enough, he wasn't fast enough. His mindset is probably different than most of ours, and certainly his heart is a lot bigger than most of ours, too.''

Asked what his message to Chrebet would be, Testaverde said, "You've had a great career. You don't have to take any more hits to your head."

Justin McCareins, who revealed this summer that, coming from a small school himself, he idolized Chrebet, said, "He's a symbol of this team and what we try to be like.''

****

Lost in the news of Chrebet impending farewell is the fact that we, too, are likely seeing the last of Testaverde, who may very well have taken his final NFL snap.

On Sunday, which happens to be Testaverde's 42nd birthday, Brooks Bollinger becomes the Jets' starting quarterback until further notice.

Testaverde acknowledged he may have made his last start this year and possibly in his career. Even after last week's loss to the Chargers, Testaverde sounded resigned to the fact that he was finished, just about handing the job to Bollinger.

"When I came back, I wasn't looking past this year," Testaverde said. "This is a bonus for me. I just wish it would have turned out a little better. But we all don't get what we want all the time. Whatever it is, it has been a bonus for me. It's unexpected."

In four starts, Testaverde was 1-3, losing his last three. In those four games, he didn't throw a single TD pass.

When Herman Edwards turned to Testaverde after the Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler injuries, he was the right person to turn to. His experience helped the Jets win against Tampa Bay and had a certain calming effect in the locker room.

Now, though, is the right time for Bollinger. The Jets are 2-6 and Bollinger has show marked improvement in his playing experiences, the latest being his comeback effort against the Chargers Sunday.

This is Bollinger's time to prove that he can be a dependable No. 2 quarterback. This is not an audition to become as starter. Jets' insiders expect teams to "expose'' the short (6-foot) Bollinger before long, but it's possible if he continues to progress that he can help lock up a No. 2 job in 2006.

"I had a little bit of success, and success leads to confidence," Bollinger said. "We need that to carry over and get better. (The players in the locker room) can't believe in you until you go do it. Each step is making me feel better, and hopefully that shows on Sunday."

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