The Timeless Art of Reception
Whether it's by way of a slow-motion toe drag in the back of the end zone, a gravity-defying swan dive, or simply a first career snag, it's the quickest way a receiver makes a name for himself. Whereas, the bigger the catch, the bigger the name becomes.
Perhaps the most acclaimed Jets receiver in the last decade, Wayne Chrebet has difficulty determining the science and approach behind some of his astonishing catches. His career was shortened due to the sacrifices he chose to make to haul in those memorable catches.
The 5'10" receiver spent the majority of his 11-year profession going across the middle and sometimes accepting earth-shattering blows in exchange for crucial yardage - one of the biggest reasons why he's so beloved by the Green and White faithful.
"It's weird, but I've never thought about anything on the field," said Chrebet. "The day I start thinking instead of just reacting is the day I lose my edge. When you leave the huddle, you somewhat cross a line between thoughts and actions. When I do make a good catch, I just try to act like I've done it before and that I'm going to do it again."
Chrebet proved that the style of a great catch itself does not have to be outstanding to be significant. One exception, which he mastered, is the ability to keep the ball and one's body intact after a massive pummeling; proving a player's courageousness practically tops any athletic feat.
When a player opts to surrender his health for a catch, the physical recovery could take longer than the few months in which the highlight will air. The circumstances that come with such bravery can be frightening, as Chrebet explained the outcome of one of his last injuries.
"One day I just remembered what happened during the play," he said. "I just remember playing and then seeing a real white light. I don't know if it was on the field or just when my head hit the ground. I remember just kind of hearing voices and that kind of stuff and the next thing you know, I'm home."
Since its legalization into the professional football scene 100 years ago, the forward pass brought with it the most graceful act on the gridiron, the reception. The first professional pass completion was documented on October 27, 1906 as "Peggy" Parratt hooked up with "Bullet" Riley in an Ohio League game.
Due to Riley's inception, names like Maynard, Walker, Rice, Lofton, Carter, Moss and Owens have dazzled fans with their sticky hands and knack for open space. In fact, the greatest play in NFL history according to NFL Films is a catch. Also known as "The Immaculate Reception," Pittsburgh's Franco Harris hauled in a deflected shoestring catch before heading into the end zone for the eventual game-winning touchdown over the Raiders in the 1972 playoffs.
Jets veteran tight end James Dearth cannot personally relate to such an impressive play as Harris' 1972 grab, but he does have a catch nearly as implausible – seeing how he's the team's long snapper. He enters this season with three career receptions; one of which was caught for a touchdown after he lined up as a tight end in a 2001 victory over Cincinnati. Ironically enough, that touchdown proved to be both his first score and last reception.
"It was goal line, we had a little pass route," remembered Dearth. "I ran a little corner route in the end zone, the defensive end had me man-to-man and I outside released on him because he must have thought I was just going to block. Once I got outside of him I was wide open, Vinny (Testaverde) just put it right in my stomach, just a nice easy little play."
Although Dearth was able to retain his historic ball, he wasn't about to start celebrating with sit-ups, sharpies, marriage proposals or dance routines.
"I was fired up cause at the time, because I was the long snapper and wasn't expecting it, but at the same time you just try to stay on the calm side because the football game is still going on, so you can't start walking on cloud nine," Dearth said. "You need to think about the game because that's the thing that really counts."
Jerricho Cotchery, a third-year wideout with the Green & White, can only laugh about the highlight catch of his career. Although it wasn't pretty, Cotchery points to a slinky-like reception against Miami last season as his personal favorite thus far.
"Against Miami last year, Brooks Bollinger was scrambling out of the pocket so I was running out and about to block someone for him when I heard him say something at the last minute," said Cotchery. "I turned around and right when I did, the ball was right there. I caught it at the last minute and I was all twisted up and everything, it looked real strange, but I caught it somehow."
When most rookies take in that first grab, it's tradition to keep the ball as a trophy for their first unofficial introduction to the NFL. Unfortunately, Cotchery wasn't as lucky.
"My first ever catch was right before halftime in a game during my first year (2004)", said Cotchery. "But it came when we were in a two minute situation. So while most people get to keep their ball from our first catch, I was unable to because we were in the hurry-up offense. I couldn't do anything with the ball except give it to the ref as fast as possible."