"Keyshawn's problem is that he hyped himself up so big that he'll never be able to live up to it. So what does he do? He makes an excuse. He takes the attention off himself by blaming something else—in this instance, race."
Despite his skin color, size and small-time college football background, Chrebet is destined to become a star if he continues to perform as he has. He has dazzled too many people around the league to remain in anyone's shadow much longer.
Before the New England Patriots traveled to the New Jersey Meadowlands last November for their game with the Jets, Bill Parcells, who was then coaching the Patriots and has since taken over the Jets, surprised reporters by saying that the Jets' best receiver wasn't Johnson or Graham or Slaughter. "Their best guy," Parcells said, "is Chrebet. He's something."
Not long before Rich Kotite resigned as the Jets' coach last year, he said that Chrebet is "going to become one of the best players this league has seen in many, many years.... He's incredible."
All this is high and heady praise for a fellow who "was about as long a shot to make it as you could ever be," as Chrebet's agent, Arthur Weiss, is fond of saying. No college offered Chrebet a scholarship when he came out of Garfield (N.J.) High in 1991. His parents had to pay about $18,000 a year for his education at Hofstra, which, at the time, offered no athletic scholarships. Chrebet broke a slew of Hofstra receiving records, and he tied the NCAA mark held by Jerry Rice for touchdown catches in a single game (five). But to pro scouts these achievements meant little. At Hofstra, after all, the idea of a tough Saturday afternoon is a game against Marshall or New Hampshire, not Michigan or Notre Dame.
"No one in college could cover Wayne," says Brian Clark, a former Hofstra defensive back. "Even at practice people couldn't cover him, and we'd all get frustrated and mad about it and start arguing among ourselves. When we played games, he just blew by everybody. Guys from the other team would say, 'Who is this kid?' "
Although testimonials such as Clark's were not uncommon, Weiss could generate little interest in Chrebet among Canadian and Arena league teams, much less NFL clubs. Weiss and Wayne Chrebet Sr. sent out highlight tapes of Wayne Jr. to all 30 NFL teams and roused responses from only a few. Chrebet was so lightly regarded that he failed to rate an invitation to the scouting combine. His dream of playing pro ball looked so hopeless that his closest supporters called themselves the Society of True Believers.
Chrebet watched the draft on TV at his family's home in Wanaque, N.J. "It was a bad time," says Jennifer Chrebet, 26, Wayne's only sibling, who is a reporter for PEOPLE magazine. "I had a knot in my stomach. I think Wayne thought that once they got toward the end and they were picking up unknowns, someone would take him. He felt more embarrassed than hurt. He thought he was letting us down."
About two hours after the draft, the phone rang. It was John Griffin, the coordinator of college scouting for the Jets. He didn't offer Chrebet a free-agent deal, but he gave him a chance to demonstrate his skills at a private workout the next day with the team's receivers coach and the director of player personnel. The Jets' training facility is on the Hofstra campus in Hempstead, Long Island. If Chrebet was impressive at the workout, he would get a shot to make the team. If not, well, at least he didn't have to suffer through a long trip home.
"If I had to use one word to describe Wayne's workout, it would be spectacular," says Griffin. "Richard Mann, our receivers coach, threw him about 50 balls, and Wayne didn't drop one. Obviously the object of the game is to throw balls that are either very hard or impossible to catch, but Rich couldn't get any past him."