Chrebet thankful for good days after concussions
DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
Nov. 27, 2014
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Wayne Chrebet's body — his brain, in particular — reminds him of the sacrifices he made to play the game he still loves.
There are occasional headaches, memory lapses and slips in concentration. They're the lasting effects of six or seven concussions. Maybe many more that he never reported.
"Good days, bad days," the former New York Jets wide receiver said at the team's facility Wednesday. "More good than bad lately."
Monday will be a great day: At halftime of New York's prime-time game against Miami, Chrebet will be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor along with late former owner Leon Hess.
It's the capper to a career that seemed so unlikely early on and made him a favorite of Jets fans, who latched on to the local guy who was the ultimate underdog.
"They'd call me 'Everyman' or that I represent the Average Joe, the average guy, size, where I was from, blue-collar," Chrebet said. "I knew that and I felt like I wanted to carry the torch for that. I told people I was in the same position scalping tickets on Route 17 for row triple-Z up at the top. I knew what the fans wanted to see."
Chrebet, from Garfield, New Jersey, was undrafted out of Hofstra in 1995, but got a tryout with the Jets. He went from 11th on the depth chart to making the team, going on to a terrific 11-year career. He's second in Jets history with 580 receptions and third with 7,365 yards receiving and 41 touchdown catches.
And now, his name is going to be displayed around MetLife Stadium with the likes of Joe Namath, Don Maynard, Joe Klecko and Curtis Martin.
"Hopefully I can get through the speech on the field," he said. "I'll be emotional."
Emotion powered Chrebet through a career in which he was among the league's most clutch receivers. He was fearless, regularly running across the middle, knowing he'd get slammed by a vicious hit — while holding onto the ball more often than not.
He was reliable and tough. And the fans loved it. Green and white No. 80 jerseys still dot the home crowds at Jets games.
"I knew if I fought and kept the play alive, it's just the anticipation of if you keep pushing and pushing, the crowd got into it," Chrebet said.
But his no-holds-barred approach ultimately led him from the playing field to countless hazy days and trips to the doctor's office. The concussions took their toll, and the last came against San Diego on Nov. 6, 2005, when he was knocked out cold.
Soon after he finally got up from the Giants Stadium turf, he walked away from the game. Chrebet went through periods of depression. He needed his wife to help him through everyday tasks and couldn't get out of bed on some days. Now 41 with three sons and working in the financial industry in Manhattan, he has no regrets, insisting he knew the risks when he started playing football.
"I loved the stress of playing and I loved the contact," he said. "I miss that. But I had some high I got over getting a big hit or making a hit if I got somebody or they got me more. But yeah, would I play any other way than what I'm saying? No.
"It's not in my DNA."
Chrebet's two oldest sons play flag football and might someday want to follow in their famous father's footsteps.
"I go back and forth on it," Chrebet said. "Based on how I feel, I never want them to go through that. I'm sure I'll let them play at some point once they're physically ready, they've got the right coaching that can teach them the right things."
The NFL has since worked to limit concussions, but it was a different time when Chrebet played. He remembers forcing his way back onto the field by threatening to beat up trainers and doctors. He chuckled while recalling those moments on the sideline, but he knows it's no laughing matter.
Not after everything he has been through. Not with the unwelcome reminders that still show up.
"Am I concerned about the future and what I read about? Me and my wife talk about it and just make the best of it," Chrebet said. "We go on with our life. I've got three great kids, a great wife, a great family, and the damage is done. It is what it is. If something happens down the road, so be it. But as of right now, we don't think about the possibilities of future impairments.
"I played the way I wanted to play even after I had the injuries, and I wouldn't change that — because if I did, I wouldn't be respected and appreciated the way I am now."
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