Crebet Tackling Life After Football

RED BANK, N.J.—For three months during the fall of 2008, Wayne Chrebet co-opted a conference room at the Morgan Stanley building here on Broad Street and studied eight hours a day for his brokerage and securities licenses. He worked from two monstrous books and took practice test after practice test. He had spent 11 seasons sacrificing his body as a wide receiver with the Jets, but this was a challenge of a different sort.

Former Jet Wayne Chrebet, right, talks with Edward Moldaver at Morgan Stanley’s office in Red Bank, N.J.EMILE WAMSTEKER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“I’d rather get punched in the face 10 times than study for those tests again,” Mr. Chrebet said over lunch this month.

One of the most popular players in Jets history, Mr. Chrebet has reinvented himself as a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley’s Red Bank office. At age 37, he has exchanged shoulder pads for finely tailored suits. And he approached those tests—the Series 7, the Series 66 and the Series 31—the same way he went after the football, fully devoting himself to the task at hand and leaving nothing to chance, even if the process was painful.

He said he enjoys monitoring the market, strategizing with colleagues and “competing”—his word—against advisers at other companies. He still wants to win. And he traveled a long path to reach this phase of his life, finding fulfillment after his football career was preempted by injury.

“The same mental toughness that you saw on the field, he’s taken that with him,” said Matt Higgins, the Jets’ Executive Vice President for business operations.

Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet heads upfield after making a reception in a game against the New England Patriots on Nov. 15, 1999, in Foxboro, Mass.JAMIE SQUIRE/ALLSPORT

Mr. Chrebet said he took an interest in managing his own money when Bill Parcells, then the Jets’ head coach, pulled him aside early in his career and offered some advice: Save your money because the circus won’t be in town forever. His words resonated when Mr. Chrebet signed a seven-year, $17.5-million contract extension before the 2002 season. He became a self-professed CNBC junkie. He also found that many of his teammates were neophytes when it came to financial matters, so he offered guidance here and there. It was more of a hobby, though he could see potential for more.

Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery spent his first two years in the league as Mr. Chrebet’s teammate, and he said he was struck by Mr. Chrebet’s work ethic and self-discipline. He said he took mental notes on how Mr. Chrebet went about his business.

“His approach to the game, the way he practiced, the way he ran routes—I watched everything about him,” Mr. Cotchery said.

It sometimes seemed to Mr. Cotchery that Mr. Chrebet’s unheralded background—small guy from a small school—overshadowed the fact that he was excellent at his job. After entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of Hofstra, Mr. Chrebet finished his career with 580 receptions for 7,365 yards and 41 touchdowns. The 1998 season might have been his finest: 75 receptions, 1,083 yards, eight touchdowns.

He also displayed total disregard for his physical health, catch after catch putting him in the path of 225-pound behemoths. In football parlance, he was known for having “guts.” He paid a steep price, and he sustained at least six documented concussions. Mr. Chrebet said he stopped counting once the total reached double figures. “A lot,” he said. “A lot. A lot.”

Whatever the number, his last concussion ended his career. On Nov. 5, 2005, Mr. Chrebet went high to grab a pass on third-and-five late in the Jets’ 31-26 loss to the San Diego Chargers when free safety Jerry Wilson drove him to the ground, a clean tackle. The back of Mr. Chrebet’s helmet slammed against the turf, but he held onto the ball for a six-yard gain and a first down—a play rife with symbolism.

Mr. Chrebet said he remembers a flash of white, a few muddled voices, then nothing else. He has no recollection of the hit itself, or grabbing at the team trainer’s belt as he staggered off the field, or how he got home that day. He only remembers waking up with a headache and asking his wife what had happened. She told him he was done.

Negotiating his way through the fog, he somehow understood what that meant: His football career was finished. The team doctors no longer wanted to take responsibility for his health, he said. He was the equivalent of a boxer with a glass jaw.

“They retired me before I even woke up,” Mr. Chrebet said. “If I was single, I could see fighting the doctors and saying, ‘It’s my choice.’ But when you’ve got your wife and parents and friends wondering if you’re going to get up after every hit, it’s just not fair to them anymore.”

He said he has side effects from post-concussion syndrome but declined to elaborate. “Everything you hear about it is true,” he said. In past interviews, he has acknowledged suffering from migraines and short-term memory loss.

Unprepared for such an abrupt end to his career, he tried to stay busy. He opened a restaurant in Hempstead, N.Y., called “Bar Social,” which he still co-owns. He invested in racehorses and at one point had ownership stakes in as many as 15, including a talented filly named Southwind Tempo, which topped more than $1 million in earnings. And he stayed in shape by boxing with a trainer named Jimmy Walsh, though Mr. Chrebet said shots to the head were—and are—considered off-limits.

These were vocations that appealed to his competitive drive, but he said he wanted more. It had little do with money, knowing he could have lived comfortably without a 9-to-5 job. It had more to do with personal fulfillment, and an ultimatum from his wife.

“She told me, ‘You’ve got to get out of the house or we’re going to get divorced,'” Mr. Chrebet said. “We got to the point during those first couple years where we were going to 10 a.m. movies and stuff. And we were like, ‘This is stupid.’ We’d just look at each other.”

Amy Chrebet found a job in real estate. Her husband found Ed Moldaver, a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley whom he met while playing poker at a local country club. “What impressed me the most was that he walked away with my money,” Mr. Moldaver said. “Twice.”

Mr. Moldaver said he had heard that Mr. Chrebet had an interest in his field, and both men saw opportunity.

For Mr. Chrebet, it was the chance to pour himself into a new passion. For Mr. Moldaver, it was the chance to hire someone he felt had a knack for the profession and could connect with high-end clients—primarily business owners who are in the process of monetizing their businesses or preparing for retirement.

“These are people who have a lot of similarities with Wayne,” Mr. Moldaver said. “They know what it’s like to compete at the highest level. So even before a meeting starts, there’s a natural admiration there.”

In his current role, Mr. Chrebet is part of a six-person team assigned to wealth management, which includes tax and estate issues, investment planning and wealth transfer strategies. Mr. Chrebet said much of his job entails meeting with potential clients and determining whether his group is a good fit for them. He said he leaves picking stocks and bonds to the “professionals” on his team.

“This is for real,” he said. “This is my second career. And I take it very seriously.”

As for his first career, he finds returning to games bittersweet. He completely distanced himself from the team for the first few years after he retired—”I wasn’t myself,” he said—and he said he still has trouble coping with the fact that his career is over, an issue not uncommon for ex-athletes.

Plus, the franchise has been overhauled. Just two of his old teammates, Mr. Cotchery and defensive lineman Shaun Ellis, remain on the roster. Everything else is new—the players, the coaches, the practice facility, the stadium.

“It’s not the easiest thing to come back,” Mr. Chrebet said. “It almost feels like I never played. I feel like such an outsider. And I don’t want to be like that kid who hangs out in the parking lot after he graduates from high school.”

At the same time, the Jets would like Mr. Chrebet to be a visible part of the franchise. The team recognizes his popularity. And before the start of the season, he accepted Mr. Higgins’s offer to write a weekly blog that appears on the team’s website. It took some wooing on Mr. Higgins’s part.

“He’s very deliberative, and he measures his approach in everything he does,” Mr. Higgins said.

As a player, Mr. Chrebet adopted a ritual of joking around during pregame introductions with Brian Mulligan, the Jets’ director of game and event operations. Mr. Chrebet would feign panic attacks and threaten not to play that day, and Mr. Mulligan said he came to realize that Mr. Chrebet was calming his own nerves and preparing his mind for whatever obstacles were ahead.

He was always anticipating and plotting, from one career to the next.

Corrections & Amplifications

Defensive end Shaun Ellis, wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, defensive tackle Sione Pouha, offensive lineman Brandon Moore and linebacker Bryan Thomas are current New York Jets who also played with Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet. This article incorrectly said that Messrs. Cotchery and Ellis were the only former teammates of Mr. Chrebet who are on the current roster.

Write to Scott Cacciola at

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