Wayne Chrebet was No. 3 when it all began in 1995, a long-shot free-agent dreamer from Hofstra who rooted for the Lawrence Taylor-Phil Simms-Harry Carson Giants growing up in Garfield, NJ
All these years later, Chrebet is the Jets legend who knows what it feels and sounds like when New York hugs and loves you — as can happen to tight end Jeremy Ruckert, the Lindenhurst, LI kid who the Jets drafted a third-year round last month.
“I just felt like I had to show that I belonged, just stay under the radar and prove myself and obviously just try to earn a spot,” Chrebet said.
One-on-one rep after one, one practice after another, No. 3 began to feel the affection of the Jets crowd in the Hofstra.
“I started going over the fence to sign autographs and slowly gained a following,” Chrebet said.
A fan base that grew and cheered him on… for 11 years.
“We’re cheering you on,” Chrebet began to hear. “You can do it!”
A former Jets underdog running back from Kutztown State named Bruce Harper, No. 42, looked at Chrebet and saw honesty.
“Then meeting people like Bruce Harper who tell me I’m his type, the old Jet players cheer me on,” Chrebet said, “it just felt good, you know?”
Chrebet didn’t just have to convince Jets head coach Rich Kotite that he was a football player. First he had to convince Hofstra’s security guard, Harry Fisher, one day.
“Coming out of class, I always wore my hat low, felt more comfortable that way,” Chrebet said. “I tried to explain to him that I had exercises and meetings and things like that. I just looked like a college kid with the hat and the backpack.”
Chrebet subsisted on the Jets’ fans.
“It just seemed like I started cheering louder than the other guys,” he said. “It was contagious that with every practice or week I was improving and getting more chances and people loved that.”
Love moved to Giants Stadium when Chrebet made his move in the third preseason game against the Giants.
“I thought this would be like my last dance,” Chrebet said.
Kotite sent Chrebet in to dance with Boomer Esiason.
“Some guys were out of shape, some didn’t know the playbook, some were injured,” Chrebet said. “He put me in there with Boomer and the starters against the Giants’ first string.”
He was a 5ft 10 bulldog and he proved he belonged.
“Everyone wants to cheer for the underdog or the local kid,” Chrebet said. “I ticked all the boxes for what people like to cheer for.”
The next day, The Turk, the Grim Reaper who shattered NFL dreams, knocked on the door next to him in the dorm room.
“I didn’t know what that meant, so I just went over to practice. … I went to meetings and no one said anything, know what I mean?” Chrebet said.
Chrebet started in the preseason finals against the Bengals and excelled.
“They asked me if I made the team what number I wanted, so I said ’80’. i was big [Steve] Big fan, big Jerry Rice fan,” Chrebet said.
He was now No. 80. Forever.
“One of the things that always struck me [Giants tight end] They cheered for Mark Bavaro when he caught the ball and cheered even louder when he went for an extra foot, yard or whatever,” Chrebet said. “I said, ‘Wow, I really want to make the fans cheer like that.’ ”
Chrebet gave his heart, and ultimately his head, too many concussions to continue playing after 580 receptions for 7,365 yards and 41 TDs that put him in the Jets’ ring of honor.
“When I go into the stadium I still notice there’s a really good majority that’s still wearing 80 and I appreciate that,” Chrebet said.
Older Jets fans who saw him play live raised their kids about Wayne Chrebet.
“And then the kids watch YouTube,” Chrebet said, “and I’m gaining new fans all the time.”
Ruckert is a third-round draft pick from Ohio State.
“So he already has fans and big expectations,” Chrebet said. “He has to live up to that bill but I saw him play. … He’s a great kid, and I love how his family was when he was drafted.
“You will love him.”
Chrebet welcomed Ruckert to the Jets family earlier this week by tweeting: Congrats to the Hometown Hero.
“When you have that kind of follower and support system with your family, your friends, and the fans, and you get that extra cheering because people are cheering for you,” Chrebet said, “it just helps you. It helps you be successful and makes you proud that people are cheering you on. And ultimately, that only adds to the experience of being an NFL player. From what I’ve seen, I think he can still be in the league for a long time.”
#80 will cheer for #89.
“He can expect people to love him for where he’s from and appreciate his family and obviously how hard he plays,” Chrebet said. “Like I said, I ticked all the boxes and this kid ticked all the boxes as far as being a fan favorite and people are cheering for him.”
Fly, Jeremy Ruckert. Fly in your hometown and soar like Wayne Chrebet.
https://nypost.com/2022/05/06/wayne-chrebet-hopes-jeremy-ruckert-is-jets-next-hometown-hero/ Wayne Chrebet hopes Jeremy Ruckert will become the Jets’ next home hero