That, say some NFL people, helps Chrebet more than it hurts him, especially on the field. "People look at him and say, 'This guy can't hurt us,' " says Marty Lyons, a former Jets defensive lineman. "They say that, and then next thing you know, he's got eight catches. One thing Wayne did last year that he didn't do as a rookie was stand up to people. He'll get up in your face and show that he's a professional."
In the week before the sixth game of the year Johnson was sidelined with a knee injury, and on that Sunday Chrebet replaced him in the lineup. He caught only three passes, but a week later, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he performed so heroically that afterward Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin described him to reporters as "just an unbelievable football player. He made plays no matter what coverage we were in." Chrebet had made 12 catches for 162 yards, the most by any Jets receiver since Al Toon had 181 yards against the Miami Dolphins in 1988. Chrebet's catches against Jacksonville also produced a remarkable eight first downs.
"I live in the middle of the field, where a lot of receivers won't go," Chrebet says. "Someone told me when I was in college, 'Make something about you stand out. Whether you shave your head or have some weird ritual, do something to stand out.' In the pros I figured I'd catch everything. Go across the middle, get drilled, catch the ball and get up and act like nothing happened. Show them toughness. That's what I live by."
After the Jacksonville game, Chrebet never started again in Johnson's spot at outside receiver, but no one heard him complain, and when the season ended he still had 21 more catches than Johnson. "I've been out to lunch and to dinner with Wayne, and you sort of invite him to talk bad about people, but he won't do it," Reich says. "He won't go down to that level. Wayne's got enough confidence in his ability not to have to take shots at people."
This day at Benny's Luncheonette, Chrebet is finally recognized. A high school kid comes storming over. His long yellow hair is tied in a ponytail, and he's wearing a shell necklace over a T-shirt emblazoned with one of those obnoxious yellow happy faces. The kid looks more inclined to pick mushrooms in the woods than to follow pro football. But he thrusts a slip of paper at Chrebet, clears his throat with painful deliberation and says, "Are you Wayne Chrebet of the Jets?" Chrebet looks up from his plate.
"I'd like to get your autograph," the kid says. "I remember the time you caught that ball between those two guys. You remember that?"
Chrebet takes the paper and signs his name. "You're talking about the Buffalo game," he tells the kid.
"That was amazing. I don't care what anyone says, you're the best receiver on the Jets."
The kid waits a long time before saying what comes next, but the words are packed with heat and conviction, spoken louder than all those that preceded it: "You're even better than Keyshawn."
Chrebet doesn't nod, doesn't speak, doesn't blink. But finally he gives a smile as big as the one on the kid's shirt before quietly going back to his meal.