Thursday, January 28, 2010
This time, Shockey not the invisible man
By Gene Wojciechowski ESPN.com
Unlike his last trip to the Super Bowl, Jeremy Shockey won't be watching from a stadium suite.
NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the people you'd expect to see wearing a cute Burberry bucket hat, Jeremy Shockey isn't one of them.
Jennifer Aniston, sure. Maybe some stick-figure fashion model guy from Finland. I'd even buy, say, George Karl wearing the plaid.
But Shockey? Never saw it coming.
Then again, nobody saw Shockey making a triumphant return to the Super Bowl. Not after the New York Giants put him in the recycle bin and had him, his injuries and his tabloid headlines shipped in mid-2008 to the New Orleans Saints for second- and fifth-round draft picks.
But here he is, standing in front of his locker with a smirk on his face and a designer bucket hat on his head. He still isn't 100 percent healthy, but he's 100 percent happy.
Who dat? Dat your starting tight end for the NFC champion Saints, dat who.
"I'll be playing in this game, unlike the last one,'' Shockey said. "It still hasn't hit me. God works in mysterious ways, man. It's a blessing to be part of this organization and this team.''
He means it, too. When the Giants reached Super Bowl XLII after the 2007 season, Shockey was more off the team than on it. A broken leg suffered in Week 15 turned him into the invisible man. He wasn't on the Giants' charter to Arizona, wasn't in the team hotel and wasn't on the sideline for the game against the New England Patriots.
"He was almost a castaway that year,'' said Saints veteran offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb.
The Giants beat the Hoodies, gave Shockey a Super Bowl ring and then gave him a new NFL address. It's just as well. The relationship between Shockey and Giants general manager Jerry Reese had turned toxic.
"Things happen, but I'm not dwelling on that,'' Shockey said. "I'm dwelling on the fact that we'll be in Miami, my adopted city, so we're all excited about that.''
Shockey, who played college ball at the University of Miami, gave the Super Bowl ring to his mom. He gives all his rings to his mom. But even if he didn't, the XLII jewelry wouldn't have spent any quality time on his finger. That's because he didn't spend any quality time on the field that day.
"The New York media made it out to be I was the villain, that I was, duh-duh-duh-duh-duh,'' Shockey said. "I was very happy for my teammates.''
He picked the Giants to beat the then-undefeated Patriots, by the way. Told a New York columnist that very thing. Shockey wants everyone to remember that.
And if he still holds a grudge against Giants management, he holds it lower and mostly out of sight. He said he loved watching his teammates hoist the Lombardi Trophy, that they "deserved what they got. They deserved that championship.''
But don't kid yourself: Shockey wasn't thrilled about paying for his own airfare to Arizona that year. And he would have rather been in uniform than on crutches and watching the game in a University of Phoenix Stadium suite with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Bloomberg's daughter, Roger Federer and Giants co-owner and chairman Steve Tisch -- nothing personal.
"[A] lot of people thought I was bitter because I didn't get a chance [to play],'' Shockey said. "Well, hell, of course I was upset. I was hurt. What competitor would not want to play in a game like that?''
For the record, the Giants' position is this:
Shockey wasn't on the team charter to Arizona because he was in Miami, not in New York, at the time. Otherwise, there would have been a seat for him on the flight.
He wasn't in the main team hotel because he was on injured reserve. The Giants housed their IR players at a different, but nearby hotel.
The IR players were seated in the stands for the game. Shockey was the only IR Giant to be seated in the owner's suite.
All ancient football history. That's the official Shockey line now.
"The trade happened,'' Shockey said. "I was happy as hell to be here. Knowing that Sean drafted me, his offensive mind, mismatches and that nature, just to be part of this team. Everyone welcomed me with open arms.''
"Sean" is Sean Payton, coach of the Saints. Payton was the Giants' offensive coordinator in 2002, Shockey's rookie season in New York. Payton is also the guy who took a flier on the Jeremy Reunion Tour.
"I don't know that it was a leap of faith,'' Payton said, "but I think it was a fit for both teams.''
It took awhile. Shockey caught 50 passes last season, but no touchdowns. He also had his usual injury episodes (a sports hernia, ankle).
This year, while battling a toe injury (healed) and knee injury (not healed, but getting there), Shockey had 48 receptions and three touchdowns in 13 regular-season games. As usual, he still plays as if his long blond hair (and bucket hat) is on fire.
"Your first impression is, if he's able to fit in this locker room, he's really going to be something special,'' Stinchcomb said.
Yeah, the Saints players were a tiny bit nervous about Shockey's arrival. Wouldn't you have been nervous? They had heard and read the same stories as everyone else.
"There might have been a little [concern],'' Stinchcomb said. "I think the approach is welcome with open arms. He hasn't caused a single problem. It was more of a 'You're going to have to prove to us that you don't fit,' rather than a 'You're going to have to prove to us that you're one of us.'
"He's proved us right time and time again.''
When healthy -- and Shockey was less than full strength in the NFC Championship Game ("Felt like a pogo stick out there on one leg,'' he said) -- he's a matchup nightmare. Linebackers are too slow. Safeties too small. He wears them out.
Actually, he wears everybody out, including the Saints. He talks from the moment he walks into the huddle, through the play, through the next play and every play after that.
"Talking about checks,'' Stinchcomb said. "Talking about scheme. Talking about how we're going to block it. Talking about what he sees. But I have truly enjoyed playing next to him.''
Shockey got a second act in his career and now gets a second Super Bowl. He returns to Miami, but he said, "If it was in Antarctica, I'd be happy to participate in this game.''
The Super Bowl in 2007 counts, but not really. He was there, but played as many snaps that day as Federer.
This time, at whatever they're calling the stadium these days, Shockey will make his actual Super Bowl debut. He'll be on the Saints' plane, in the Saints' hotel and, best of all, in the Saints' XLIV lineup.
The Bloombergs will have to entertain themselves.
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