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Wayne Chrebet was the ultimate underdog

New York Jets Wayne Chrebet shows he’s on the ball after thi Photo by Mike Albans/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

It is Underdog Week at SB Nation. NFL team sites are writing underdogs and their teams. The Jets once had a player who produced against all odds. His name was Wayne Chrebet.

In hindsight, the odds against Wayne Chrebet being a productive NFL player were astronomical. He played at a small school, Hofstra University, which doesn’t even have a football team anymore. He wasn’t imposing. He stood only 5’10” and weighed under 190 pounds. He wasn’t particularly athletic. Somehow he found a way.

Simply getting a chance seems like a “right place, right time situation.” Baltimore’s Canadian Football League team didn’t even offer him a contract after a tryout, but the Jets gave him a shot. At the time the Jets trained on Hofstra’s campus. Did they view him as a sleeper prospect they discovered because they were on his campus every day in college? Was giving him a shot just a favor to Hofstra? It’s tough to say, but against all odds Chrebet made the team out of training camp.

(Hot take: This was the 1-15 Kotite Jets team. That 1995 Baltimore team won the CFL Championship. Is it possible making the Jets’ roster was an easier task?)

His career did not get off to a great start. In his second game he dropped a critical pass in overtime in a loss to the Colts that arguably cost the Jets the game. He bounced back and put up a shockingly productive 66 catch, 725 yard season as an undrafted rookie.

In the years that followed, Chrebet continued to produce and became a fan favorite.

To some extent Chrebet became involved in controversy after the Jets drafted fellow wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson number one overall in 1996. The controversy was always caused by Johnson criticizing Chrebet in public for no reason. In his book, Keyshawn referred to Chrebet as the team mascot.

After his 2000 trade to Tampa Bay, Johnson compared himself to a star which shines forever and Chrebet to a flashlight that eventually burns out.

In an early season game between the Jets and Keyshawn’s Buccaneers, Chrebet had the last laugh.

Through the years Chrebet was a steady performer. He was as clutch as any receiver in the league. An amazing 379 of his 580 career receptions (65%) came on third down to extend drives.

He was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in 2014. I have seen a few fans question why Chrebet made it. If you look purely at the stats, they are good but not great. Chrebet only had a single 1,000 yard season. He was seldom the team’s top option in the passing game.

But as time goes on some players’ legacies suffer unfairly simply because their full impact can’t be measured by stats. You had to see them play to appreciate their impact. Chrebet might not have been a great wide receiver, but I think he was a great New York Jet. When you look at how important he was to his team making those key catches and consider his backstory as a local kid who beat the odds to make it. The Ring of Honor isn’t a Hall of Fame. It isn’t just about dominance. It is about how much a player means to a franchise, and I think few players have meant as much to the Jets as Chrebet.

Chrebet’s career was unfortunately ended by head injuries. He suffered nine known concussions during his career. The last of these occurred on his final NFL play.

It is very difficult to see a player suffer an injury like this, especially one that ends his career. It does, however, seem worth noting that Chrebet’s final act as an NFL player was holding onto the ball after being knocked unconscious to complete a drive-extending third down reception.

There have been more productive receivers to play for the Jets. There have been more talented receivers to play for the Jets. But in his own way, Chrebet stands above them all.