“I loved being the ‘everyman’ people could root for, seeing people on Harleys and in Mercedes wearing my jersey.”
Those are the words of Wayne Chrebet, still one of the most popular New York Jets of all time, reflecting on his career while chatting with Danielle McCartan in the wee hours of Sunday morning on WFAN.
Chrebet was an easy root for Jets fans, as he grew up in Garfield, N.J. – “I was literally 15 minutes from Giants Stadium and drove by all the time” – and went to college at Hofstra, but was undrafted despite setting several school records and even one national record in what was then Division I-AA.
“Everybody loves the underdog story. People accepted me right away and I had a fan base right away – my parents had a tailgate called the ‘True Believers Club,’” Chrebet laughed. “But I remember growing up and seeing Mark Bavaro and guys like that who grew up fighting for the extra yard, and I loved being that everyman people could root for.”
One of the things that endeared him to the fans? His durability, which he says came at the expense of a lot of aches and pains over the years (outside of his concussion issues).
“I played hurt, and people don’t do that anymore. Concussions were mostly when I missed time, but I played hurt, because I was afraid to lose my job,” Chrebet said. “It seems like people don’t want to play if they’re not 100 percent, but you’re never going to feel 100 percent after the first couple years, or even the first couple weeks. But it seems like when people get that contract, things change. I don’t know others business but it seems like sometimes, once they get that money, mentalities change.”
Speaking of mentalities, Chrebet knows all too well what the Jets of 2020 are going through, as Gang Green went 3-13 in his rookie season of 1995 and 1-15 the year after.
“It’s tough; I came in and wasn’t paying attention to the record, I was trying to contribute and earn my spot, but next thing you look up and you’re 3-13,” Chrebet said. “After the season, my friends were busting my chops and I was like, ‘well, we can’t get any worse’ – and then we went 1-15. It’s tough when you’re halfway through the season and you’re mathematically eliminated, but at that point, you’re playing for each other, trying to win and do anything positive.”
It’s hard for the veterans who may not have many more shots at a winner, but especially tough on younger players who may have never been on losing teams.
“I had a good team in college so I wasn’t used to losing,” Chrebet said. “But fans should know it hurts us a lot more than it hurts them. You spend a lot of money on tickets and gear and such, but we’re trying our best. The effort’s there, and things aren’t panning out. You know on a team like that, they’re going to bust it up, so you just have to do your job and play for the fans.”
If there’s a glimmer of hope for the Jets fans of today, though, Chrebet points to Bill Parcells coming in to replace Rich Kotite in 1997 and the immediate turnaround that saw
“I grew up a Giants fan so I always wanted to play for him, and when he came, things changed,” Chrebet said. “Rich gave a lot of freedom for the veterans to kind of run the team, but when you’re losing, it can be tough to maintain control. Bill cracked the whip and busted chops, but if he didn’t mess with you, you weren’t his guy. He’s the kind of coach who would cut somebody just to reinforce that no one was safe, and he had that psychology that made you want to run through a wall from him.”
Even a scrappy, easy-to-root-for player like Chrebet.
“He used to tell me, ‘I know everything you do Chrebet – don’t listen to me, your career is going down faster than a dump truck with a cement parachute,’ which was harsh!” Chrebet laughed. “But my dream was always to Gatorade him like Harry Carson did, and I got to.”
And that’s because Parcells authored a huge turnaround, taking the Jets to a division title and the AFC Championship Game in 1998 in just his second season.
“We got some new talent and good leadership; Vinny (Testaverde) came in, and Bill brought in some of his guys who played a lot harder and that’s the year things fell our way,” Chrebet said. “When you’re doing bad, the breaks don’t go your way, but when you’re doing good, you get good karma.”
It looks like wholesale changes will be in order sometime soon for the now 0-7 Jets, but drawing on his own experience, Chrebet has one message for the fans.
“Hang in there!” he said. “True fans will stick with the team. Sometimes it’s tough, but I think the future is bright.”
Check out Chrebet’s entire interview with Danielle McCartan below!
Follow Danielle McCartan on Twitter: @CoachMcCartan