Salamanca Republican Press

‘He’ll get his chance,’ says Hefferle on new team member

Crist signs with Saints, will be on special teams

Now it’s all up to Chuck Crist.

Crist, the former Salamanca High School standout, got an unexpected second chance in professional football this week, and what he makes of that chance and what his future will be in the National Football League depends entirely on him.

A three-year veteran with the New York Giants, Crist was released by the Giants last summer At that time, none of the other teams in the NFL showed any interest in him, and for 1975, it appeared that his career was over.

On Wednesday, however, he received a call from the New Orleans Saints. Crist, who was substitute teaching in Ellicottville High School at the time, took the next flight out of Buffalo. He arrived in New Orleans that night, took his physical Thursday morning, then signed a contract with the Saints. He attended his first practice Thursday.

New Saints coach Ernie Hefferle, who took over for John North after North was fired Monday, specifically asked for Crist after failing to make a deal before the NFL trading deadline closed, and pointed out that Crist’s future is pretty much in his own hands.

“I saw Chuck against the Steelers in 1973 when he was playing on the special teams for the Giants,” Hefferle said Thursday in an exclusive interview with the Salamanca Press, “and he really waylaid someone on one of the punt returns. He showed me some good tackling in that game, and when I took over here, I wanted a chance to see him. I thought he was good enough to take a look at, and he’s going to get his chance here. I hope he can do it because that’s why we brought him in. It’s pretty much up to him if he wants the job. We’ll be using him on special teams this week, and if he shows well on special teams, this could help him. We’ll probably play him a little at a time at safety, and if he shows us he can do the job there, he’s got it.”

Hefferle added that he was somewhat surprised when he first met Crist.

“I didn’t realize he was that big,” Hefferle said, “and I was surprised because he’s a basketball player. But I guess pass defense is pretty much like basketball.

“He didn’t get in too much today,” Hefferle continued. “Right now, it’s going to be more of a case of learning the terminology. He met with his new coach and he’ll be spending the next few days working into things a little at a time.”

The defensive backfield coach for the Saints is Bud Whitehead, who played in the defensive backfield for the San Diego Chargers under Sid Gilliam from 1961-68.

For Crist, the chance to get back into action this season is one he isn’t about to let slip by.

“About the only thing I can say right now is that I’m happy to be here,” he said Thursday night. “This is an opportunity I wasn’t expecting to get, and what I do here could have a lot to say about what my chances will be to play here next year. They didn’t bring me down here to sit on the bench, and I’m going to go out and try to do my best.”

Crist also elaborated on what he felt was a change in attitude he has undergone.

“I didn’t think I missed the game that much until I stepped out on the field today,” he said. “My attitude has changed a whole lot since the Saints called and I think it’s going to help. This is a new tomorrow, a new world for me, and I’m not going to let it slip by. Things are kind of mixed up down here because of the change in coaches, but I think there’s probably a better team attitude, and the players are more relaxed. We know we’re not going anywhere this year, so we’re just going to go out and try to win games for the fans.

“This is a great opportunity, and this could be a good place for me to reestablish myself and my career,” Crist added. “I don’t want to let the coach down and I don’t want to let my family down. And when Sunday gets here, I’m going to be out there busting my butt on kickoffs and punts.”

Crist will be wearing number 44 for the Saints this weekend as they play host to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Next week, the Saints will travel to Oakland, followed by a pair of home games. New Orleans travels to Cleveland on November 30 and will be back north December 14, when they take on the Giants.

Ironically, Crist’s picture appeared in the New York Times Monday in an advertisement for an airline company. That ad centers around Crist, who although his facial characteristics are indistinguishable, can be recognized by his old Giants number 24.

To make room for Crist on the roster, the Saints today released Jimmy DeRatt, a free agent rookie safety and kick returner.

With Crist back in the NFL, the number of former Cattaraugus County high school players in the pro ranks swell back to three. Former Randolph star Marv Hubbard is with the Oakland Raiders, returning to action after having been sidelined by an injury early in the season. Bill Bergey, a South Dayton native and graduate of Pine Valley High School, is an All-Pro linebacker with the Philadelphia Eagles. Bergey’s brother, Bruce, was a member of the Portland Thunder of the now defunct World Football League.

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