Work in Sports
Talking with his hands
Chrebet lets victory over Bucs speak for itself
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
TAMPA, Fla. -- Score one for the guy who refused to talk trash. Score one for the little guy. Score one for the "flashlight" who drowned out the "star."
Wayne Chrebet did all of that and more. And he did it with his hands and his head, not his mouth.
How fitting was that? How many NFL Sundays end more poetically than this one for the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Bucs? The guy who doesn't talk all week ends up letting his game-winning touchdown speak for itself. The guy who wouldn't shut up all week winds up making nary a peep's worth of impact in the game's outcome.
Add another historic chapter to the Keyshawn Johnson-Wayne Chrebet saga. Who knew the feud would live up to the hype?
If you were scoring at home, Sunday's first-ever Keyshawn Bowl finished with the following totals: Keyshawn -- 1 catch, 1 yard, 1 tackle and two mid-game commericials on the JumboTron; Chrebet -- 2 receptions, 32 yards, 1 game-winning touchdown -- on an 18-yard halfback option pass from Curtis Martin with 52 seconds remaining -- and the opportunity of a lifetime to unleash the mother of all gloats.
Characteristically, Chrebet refused.
"It's not about that [revenge]," said Chrebet, minutes after the Jets improved to 4-0 for the first time ever by scoring two touchdowns in the final 1:54, overcoming a seemingly safe 17-6 Bucs lead to win 21-17. "You're losing sight of what's important. The New York Jets are 4-0. We haven't been in this situation.
"This is a big 180 from how it used to be. We used to lose games like this. I could stand up here and I could say things and point fingers and this and that. But I'm bigger than that. I'm not going to do that."
If Chrebet seethed all week while Johnson fired off volley after volley of insults his way, we'll never know it. He held his tongue and waited for his chance to make his statement. Stunningly, dramatically, unforgettably, it came in the game's final minute, when he gathered in that wounded duck of a pass from Martin and tapped his toes just inside the back of the Jets end zone.
Asked if it's always better to let one's performance do the talking, Chrebet agreed.
"I think that's just my motto," he said. "I believe in being seen and not heard, and I'm just going to stick to that."
You remember Johnson's most oft-repeated quote this week, about how his "star" outshone Chrebet's "flashlight." Jets coach Al Groh remembered. Wading into the verbal fray for the first time all week, Groh couldn't resist firing one salvo in the direction of the Jets former receiver.
"I was very happy for Wayne," Groh said, pausing for effect. "And I guess I would say, you know, the power of 46 flashlights can be pretty bright sometimes."
The Jets were indeed a team full of Chrebets this week. Despite their 3-0 start, they were not considered in the same class as 3-0 Tampa Bay. Little by little, the message seeped in. Conventional wisdom said the Bucs would win easily. The Jets said otherwise.
"I think our team was very motivated by the fact that we were playing a well-acknowledged Super Bowl contender," Groh said. "And I think that they got a sense throughout the course of the week that they were kind of recognized as having no chance."
New York strong safety Victor Green was more succinct: "You have to do more than talk to win a football game, and we did that."
Everywhere you looked in the Jets locker room, there was vindication to be had. Benched briefly in the fourth quarter, New York quarterback Vinny Testaverde had come off the mat to spark yet another in a growing series of late-game comebacks.
But the line for post-game satisfaction started somewhere behind Chrebet.
"I thought that last play to Wayne was, well, I don't have to tell you," Testaverde said. "He certainly deserved to catch that winning touchdown. If there was one guy who deserved it, it was him."
Who among us hasn't rooted for the underdog to get the last laugh, to win out in the end? There was never a clearer lesson in the dangers of trash talking than this week, with the choices made by both Johnson and Chrebet.
As is often said, it ain't bragging if you can back it up. Ah, but if you don't, the drop is that much more precipitous.
"At no point did I think we were going to lose this game," Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "We had our chances to put them away and we didn't. This is something we haven't gone through in a long time."
Unsurprisingly, Johnson was a tad more subdued in defeat than he had been all week. This time, he said nothing that would make an opposing team's bulletin board.
"They're a good football team," he said. "Any time you let them hang around, you can get in trouble. They did a lot of little things to take me out of the game."
Intent on drawing the contrast between Johnson and Chrebet's day a little more starkly, reporters pressed Groh on whether Johnson had ever made such a meaningful catch in his four-year Jets career. Groh took the bait.
"I'm not into comparisons, but it's certainly as big a catch as Wayne has ever made, and probably as big as catch as anybody's ever made for this team," Groh said.
But time and time again, Chrebet wouldn't bite on the topic of revenge.
"Stop asking me about it," Chrebet snapped. "I'm never ever going to answer a question about anything that has to do with that again."
Don't sweat it, Wayne. You already provided the perfect answer.