Concussions have become a major topic in the NFL in recent years as the severity and long-lasting effects they can have cause concern among players, past and present. The league continues to increase the protocols it has in place to try to prevent and treat concussions, but unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case.
Players, like retired WR Wayne Chrebet, who were in the league as recently as 15 years ago didn’t have the same protections that today’s players do. Because of that, players of earlier eras would play with concussions, unlike players today.
They were also susceptible to getting more concessions than players do now because modern helmets have more protection for the head than older models. Like his contemporaries, Chrebet’s career was derailed by an alarming number of concussions.
Wayne Chrebet’s football career
Chrebet played college football at Hofstra, setting school records for single-game receiving yards and touchdowns — 245 and five, respectively — as well as touchdowns for a season (16) and career (31). Despite that success, Chrebet went undrafted in 1995 because teams thought he was too small at 5’10” and 188 pounds.
He eventually signed with the Jets, who trained at Hofstra at the time, and ended up grabbing 66 receptions for 726 yards, with four touchdowns as a rookie. He would ultimately spend his entire 11-year career with the Jets, totaling 580 catches for 7,365 yards and 41 scores.
When you play for a New York team, it takes a lot to get the fans behind you, especially if you come into the league without much fanfare, as Chrebet did as an undrafted free agent. But he ended up becoming a favorite among Gang Green’s fans.
At 5’10”, he was more like them than many players of the league who are obviously bigger. Chrebet also played with grit, as he almost had to due to his smaller stature. He made the most of his size and physical talents, and he left it all on the field every time he took the field.
While that helped to make him a fan favorite, it also may have put him at a higher risk of getting concussions. In a 2007 interview with the Star-Ledger newspaper, he admitted that having as many concussions as he did was his own fault. He says he “could have gone out of bounds more” and “ducked under tackles” to avoid contact with defenders. But he wanted to go all-out, so he went straight at defenders.
Concussions end Wayne Chrebet’s career
The New York Times profiled Chrebet in 2011, focusing on the concussions suffered during his career. The paper notes that Chrebet retired in 2005 — at the young age of 32 — after suffering his sixth concussion in 11 seasons.
Chrebet doesn’t like to discuss the specifics of the lingering effects he has from the concussions, but in a 2007 interview he said “sometimes, you don’t want to get out of bed.” He continued, saying that “some days are worse than others, and you just hope for the good days.”
In a phone interview conducted for the 2011 piece, the reporter asked Chrebet if he was still having similar effects. The former Jet responded that “there’s some that have gotten better, some that have gotten worse,” He also seemed to be resigned to the fact that the conditions will always linger. He told the Times “it is what it is” and he’ll “deal with it.”
In an email to the Times, Chrebet seems to not have any regrets about the way he played, writing “I can say that I am proud of the way I played.” He also indicated more rules intended to prevent concussions may not have saved him because of his playing style.
His email continued “and new rules or old ones there was a good chance that the same thing would have happened to me. I stuck my nose where it didn’t belong sometimes and I paid for it.” But, ultimately, he admits he “wouldn’t have had it any other way.”