Born: August 14, 1973
Town: Garfield, New Jersey
Wayne John Chrebet Jr. was born August 14, 1973 in Linden. His father, a loan officer with a mortgage company, was a Viet Nam veteran and Purple Heart recipient. His mother, Pauelette was a stay-at-home mom. Wayne had one sister, Jen, who became a magazine writer.
Wayne up in Garfield. The Chrebets moved to the North Jersey working-class town—which covers a little over two square miles—when he was five. Many folks in Garfield remember Wayne as “Mush,” a nickname he acquired because he did not speak clearly as a boy. The family lived in a part of town where there were more elderly residents than kids, so Wayne, who was an energetic child, found endless ways to amuse himself. Once he was chasing his cat around the house and fell face-first into the family's coffee table. He still bears the scar from the 22 stitches he receive on his chin.
Wayne played a lot of baseball and basketball as a kid; his mother did not approve of football. That did not stop him from trying to talk his way onto the Garfield High football team as an undersized freshman. He approached coach Huff Kotwica, who offered him a chance to make the team as a defensive back, and he did so in his sophomore year.
Wayne impressed the coach with his appetite for watching game films, often showing up at Kotwica’s house the morning after games. The knowledge he gained as a defensive player came in handy as he added some bulk and moved to the receiver position. Wayne achieved the height of 5'10" in high school, and was better known as the basketball team’s star shooting guard and the baseball team’s fleet-footed center fielder than for his prowess on the gridiron.
In 1991, Wayne enrolled at Hofstra University on Long Island, with his parents footing the tuition bill. He made the Flying Dutchmen varsity as a walk-on receiver freshman year and lettered all four seasons. In all, he set six school receiving records. Wayne caught 16 TD passes as a senior in 1994 and finished with 31 in his career. He was the first player in school history to gain 1,000 receiving yards in a season, and had a 245-yard day with 5 scoring catches against the University of Delaware in 1994.
Despite his gaudy numbers, Wayne was not considered NFL material. He was not invited to workout at the NFL combines or drafted by any teams, and failed to impress the CFL Baltimore Stallions during a spring tryout. Fortunately, the Jets used Hofstra as a summer training facility, so the team was aware of Wayne. The Jets gave him a chance to tryout, but on the first day he was stopped from entering camp by a security guard who refused to believe he was a player. Wayne talked his way into practice, worked his way up the depth chart and made the team—the first NFL player from Hofstra to do so in over three decades.
Coach Rich Kotite didn’t have much talent to work with in 1995. The Jets won just three games during the season. Kotite liked Wayne’s effort and admired his willingness to catch passes in traffic—and his ability to hang onto the ball after getting hit. He soon became the go-to option for quarterback Boomer Esiason when the Jets needed crucial yardage. At season’s end, Wayne had reeled in 66 passes for a team-high 726 yards—and was voted Jet of the Year.
Wayne had a breakout year in 1998. He caught 75 passes and topped 1,000 yards for the first (and only) time in his career. He and Keyshawn Johnson gave quarterback Vinny Testaverde two great targets, and this helped the Jets go all the way to the AFC Championship Game. Wayne caught 8 passes for 121 yards against the Broncos in that contest, which Denver won 23–10.
Early in the 2000 season, Johnson—now with the Buccaneers—groused over the media’s comparing Wayne and him. He said it was like comparing a flashlight to a star. Wayne caught the winning pass with under a minute left to beat the Bucs. After that, his nickname became The Green Lantern. He had formerly been known as Mr. Third Down.
Wayne continued to rack up receptions over the next few seasons. In 2002, his 9 touchdown catches ranked 5th in the NFL. Perhaps his most impressive number was that 65% of his 580 career receptions came on critical third down plays.
In a 2005 game against the Chargers, Wayne was knocked out on a pass play, but he hung onto the ball though unconscious. It turned out to be the final catch of his career. He was diagnosed with a concussion for the sixth time in his 11-year career.
Wayne and his wife, Amy, settled into his home in Monmouth County after his playing days and he became a financial advisor. They have two boys. He continues to do community relations work for the Jets and remains a favorite of owner Woody Johnson.