Wayne Chrebet has transcended several Jets eras.
His first two seasons were testament to his fortitude, surviving the four-win era of Rich Kotite, Keyshawn Johnson’s boisterous, helmet-throwing first touchdown catch and subsequent book, and Bubby Brister’s shovel pass turned interception-return for a touchdown.
Chrebet can discuss at length the reconstruction later brought on by Bill Parcells and how the Jets were 30 minutes away from Super Bowl XXXIII before a 10-0 lead at Denver evaporated into the thin Mile High air.
He has seen Bill Belichick’s one-day reign as Jets head coach, Al Groh’s subsequent cameo, and the recent Golden Age (by Jets standards at least) of sustained success under Herman Edwards – bypassing this year, obviously.
He is, essentially, a walking green and white almanac. Yet today at Hofstra, Chrebet, speaking for the first time since sustaining a concussion on Nov. 6, broached a tender topic, but confirmed what everyone has seen coming.
"I'm not going to get back on the field. I think everybody's aware of that," Chrebet said. "But I'm just thankful and want to let the right people know I appreciate everything they've done for me."
Chrebet’s spur-of-the-moment meeting with the media was unannounced and though he did not officially declare his retirement, Chrebet wanted to make known his decision to not return. Chrebet, not wanting to be a distraction to his teammates with just two games left, preferred to wait until after the season ends to officially close the curtain on his career.
“I’ve had nothing but time to think about that,” Chrebet said of retirement. “I guess initially, I just kept to myself mostly and just stayed home. Now, I went from not really wanting to be around to just needing to be around [the team].
"I just wanted to come up here today to be around practice and I’m looking forward to going to the last two games just to be out there."
Though Chrebet only alluded to the r-word, the writing was on the wall. In a 31-26 loss to the Chargers last month, Chrebet’s head violently made contact with the ground after making a third-down reception. Fittingly, it was a third-down catch, which over the years had become Chrebet’s specialty.
However Chrebet lay on the field, his eyes glazed over, motionless for several seconds. Anyone with a parcel of knowledge regarding Chrebet’s history saw his career end on that play.
“One day I just remembered what happened during the play, and I just remember playing and I remember seeing a real white light,” he said. “I don’t know if it was the field or just when my head hit the ground. I remember just kind of hearing voices and that kind of stuff and the next thing you know, I’m home. It’s weird.”
The say after the game Chrebet spoke extensively with his family and the Jets placed him on injured reserve.
"It's just a weird thing you don't want to accept," Chrebet said. "I've had a lot of time at home with my kids and that's been great. It's something I've always looked forward to. The rest is dealing with not having this in my life anymore."
For several years, Chrebet’s career has been concussion-riddled. In 2003, he had a post-traumatic migraine and sat out the final eight games with postconcussion syndrome. He kicked around the thought of retirement, but played in all 16 games last season but sustained a concussion in the regular season finale and missed the playoffs.
“For me it’s difficult knowing that he’s never going to be coming out that tunnel,” Laveranues Coles said.
Coles, who often bristles at the media, spoke frankly about Chrebet. The two grew close after the Jets drafted Coles in 2000 and when Coles returned during the off-season via trade, Chrebet was one the first to welcome him.
“It’s just tough,” Coles continued. “[He] helped me through my early years just talking to me and letting me know the ins-and-outs about the League about earning your stripes, getting your playing time….Once he taught me all the intangibles about the game, our friendship just kept growing. Now, knowing we’re not ever going to suit up again it’s tough.”
“When you think of Wayne Chrebet you think of greatness. There are not enough words, there’s not enough numbers to describe him.”
Ironically, Chrebet made the announcement at Hofstra, where for four years he dazzled fans at the Division I-AA collegiate level. After he graduated, no NFL showed interest in the scrappy 5-foot-10 receiver. His size was an issue.
Ergo he made a highlight reel of his touchdown catches and tried for the Jets as a walk on. The rest is history.
He is eight on the Jets with 41 career touchdowns and his 560 receptions are second only on the team list to Don Maynard’s 627. He caught 84 passes in the Jets horrid 1-15 season in 1996 and caught 75 balls in the Jets magical run to the AFC Championship game against the Broncos in 1998. Win or lose, Chrebet had a knack for having his nose around the ball.
Recently, though, Chrebet has spent most of his time away from Weeb Ewbank hall because he did not want any of the spotlights to shift from his teammates and onto him.
“I know for him it was difficult to come around knowing he wasn’t going to be able to put the uniform on,” Coles said. “I know the way he loves the game and the way he loves the guys.”
Coles explained how Chrebet’s reappearance in the locker room signified his acceptance of the situation.
“I think he’s at a point now where he can come around and be around the guys and feel good about it,” Coles said. “It’s great for him.”
Yet Chrebet, like all players forced away from the game before their time, will try to fill the void off the field.
“There was nothing like game day for me. I’m hoping to find something to replace that feeling and I don’t think there ever will be,” Chrebet said. “It’s been the greatest 11 years of my life.”
Tragedy hits home and away. With the tragic death of 18-year-old James Dungy, son of Colts coach Tony Dungy, rocking the football world, the ripples made their way to Hempstead.
Tony Dungy and Herman Edwards have a well-documented, long-standing friendship. When Edwards was asked his thoughts about the sudden passing of the younger Dungy, the Jets coach, usually candid an quote worthy, was left tongue-tied.
“I can remember him growing up,” Edwards said. “I can remember when he was sitting in my lap in KC, he was a little guy. I watched him grow up….Just can't figure it out sometimes, you know?
"The whole family is good people. You know Tony, how he raised a family," Edwards continued. "A tragedy. I know the prayers of the National Football League go out to him and his family."
Edwards’ son, Marcus, 22, was friends with Dungy. Dungy was found by his girlfriend in his Tampa-area apartment at about 1:30 a.m., sheriff’s officials said. The cause of death is unknown pending an autopsy. Tony Dungy left the team indefinitely to return to Tampa and assistant head coach Jim Caldwell will coach the team in the mean time.
“Our Colts family is united in prayer and support for the Dungy family at this time,” Colts Owner and C.E.O. Jim Irsay said in a statement released by the team. “It is an unspeakable tragedy, and we will do whatever we can to assist Tony, Lauren and their children.”
“The thoughts and prayers of everyone in the Colts organization are with Tony and his family. Those joining the organization in these sentiments are asked to observe the family’s wish for privacy at this time,” Colts President Bill Polian said.
Hawaii 5-1? Jonathan Vilma was not elected a starter in the Pro Bowl despite leading the league with 162 tackles.
“I figured in the beginning of the year some people would notice how I played,” said Vilma, who was named the team’s MVP.
The second-year standout still can make the roster as an alternate if either the Dolphins Zach Thomas or the Broncos Al Wilson does not attend.
Said Vilma about preparing as an alternate: “I have no idea. I look at it as if I’m not in.”
The Jets 3-11 record may play into Vilma’s snub.
And the award goes to…The Jets announced their team awards today. Here is this list:
MVP: LB Jonathan Vilma
Most Inspirational Play: QB Brooks Bollinger
Ed Block Courage Award: WR Wayne Chrebet
Community Service Award: C Kevin Mawae
Good Guy Award: S Erik Coleman
RB Derrick Blaylock likely will play this week and DE Shaun Ellis and DT Dewayne Robertson did not practice today.
-DE Shaun Ellis (hamstring)
-DT Dewayne Robertson (thigh)
-RB Derrick Blaylock (foot)
-LB Mark Brown (neck)
-S Oliver Celestin
-WR Harry Williams Jr. (knee)