Mann, now an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens, says the thing he liked best about Chrebet was "how alert he was. He was kind of small, but he was feisty, and there was a hunger you couldn't ignore. He had excellent hands, too. I thought he was quicker than he was fast, but it's sometimes better to be quick than fast. Most of the time a receiver's routes don't require him to outrun people, anyway. Wayne's got a low center of gravity, and he's able to come out of cuts real quick."
Two hours after the workout the Jets called Chrebet in his dormitory room and offered him the standard rookie contract for the league minimum of $119,000 if he made the team. Weiss talked the Jets into pitching in a $1,500 bonus, and Chrebet spent half of that on a Movado wristwatch. Then he bought his mother a pair of gold hoop earrings and took her out to dinner at a Red Lobster. Wayne doesn't eat seafood, and he had a tough time talking Paulette into ordering lobster. Too expensive, she complained.
Chrebet entered camp as the last receiver on the depth chart. Twelve players crowded the list ahead of him, and it wasn't long before teammates started calling him Rudy.
At his first practice Chrebet lined up against Aaron Glenn, the best coverage cornerback on the team. "The first time Wayne beats Aaron, you think, Well, the grass is wet," says Griffin. "But then Wayne goes up against a few other quick defensive backs and beats them, too, and you think, Well, maybe they're not in shape. But then after he's gone up against everybody and beaten them all, you go, Hey, wait a minute here."
At the end of camp Chrebet called his parents from the locker room. Minutes before, he'd studied a list of the last players let go by the team. His name wasn't on it. "Did they cut you?" his mother asked.
"I don't know," he said. "I'm not asking."
"Even later that night he still wouldn't say it," Paulette says. "He was still there in the locker room, and his name was still up on his locker, and he would not give in that he had made the team."
During camp and the exhibition season Chrebet stayed at a friend's apartment, sleeping on the living-room couch. Several weeks into the 1995 season he was still sleeping on that couch and still afraid that some team official would pull him aside with the news that his time was up. "I wasn't sure about the process of how they got rid of you," Chrebet says. "Finally Kotite came up to me and said, 'I hear you've been sleeping on someone's couch.' I told him yeah. He said, 'Listen, kid. You're going to be around awhile. Go get yourself a place.' " Still not willing to press his luck, Chrebet worked out a deal with the guy in whose apartment he was staying. For $300 a month he moved into the spare bedroom.
"Wayne makes several all-rookie teams and has an incredible second year," Weiss says, "and I wanted to throw a party for him. He wouldn't let me. He's still unsure about his status in the NFL. I told him, 'Wayne, they'll be inducting you into the Hall of Fame, and you'll finally let us celebrate the fact that you got into the NFL' "
After his rookie season the Jets gave Chrebet a three-year, $2 million contract, and he finally moved into a place of his own. On its face the deal seems rich, but at the same time Johnson signed a contract with the Jets worth $15 million over six years. "I guess to most people I'll always be just little old Wayne Chrebet from little old Hofstra, no matter what I do," he says.