Shock Value

NEW ORLEANS – Jeremy Shockey came off the field with both arms held high, the ball in his hands and looking skyward with a gigantic look of relief.

If you'd gone 672 days between touchdown catches, you'd probably feel the same way.

"I finally got that asterisk off from beside my name," Shockey said of the one-yard reception from Drew Brees in the second quarter of the New Orleans Saints' opener against Detroit. It was Shockey's first since Nov. 11, 2007.

That was back when Shockey was still a valued member of the Giants – a four-time Pro Bowl tight end, acknowledged as one of the league's best downfield threats and also a top blocker.

But there had been little for Shockey to celebrate since that day. Indeed everything seemed to be the opposite:

- A broken fibula a month later which ended his season.

- An estrangement over his role with the team so strong that he wasn't on the sidelines for the Giants' victory in Super Bowl XLII and also boycotted the ring ceremony at Tiffany's.

- A reported shouting match with Jerry Reese when the still-injured Shockey refused to watch minicamp.

- A welcomed pre-training camp trade to New Orleans, which was immediately dampened by his lingering leg problems compounded by a sports hernia that sidelined him for three games.

- No touchdowns in his 50-reception, 483-yard season that included a confrontation with Brees after a missed block and dropped ball during a loss to Atlanta.

- All capped by a mysterious "dehydration" incident in Las Vegas just before the Saints' June mandatory minicamp.

Small wonder Saints fans – and perhaps some of those within the organization – were questioning whether Shockey, obtained for second- and fifth-round draft picks, would ever regain the status he'd reached in his first six seasons.

The jury's still out on that question, but certainly Shockey's career seems on the upswing again.

Although Shockey's had only one other touchdown catch – a 15-yarder later in the game against Detroit – his 18 receptions are tops on the team.

Shockey had four catches for 32 yards in the Saints' 24-10 victory against the Jets on Oct. 4, one that ran New Orleans record to 4-0 with an open date before Shockey faces his old team on Oct. 18.

And that makes Shockey – and everyone around him – a bunch of happy campers.

"He's healthy now," said Saints Coach Sean Payton, the Giants' offensive coordinator in 2002, Shockey's rookie and most-productive (74 catches, 894 yards) season. "Jeremy had some good games for us last season, but he struggled with the injuries.

"He came back in great shape and that's been a big plus for us."

That's doubly rewarding for Payton, who lobbied hard for the team to acquire Shockey.

But not as much as it is for Shockey.

"This game's hard enough," he said. "If you're not healthy, it makes it super hard.

"No one's really ever 100 percent in this league, but being hurt last year wasn't a good feeling. If nobody ever got hurt, anybody could play this game."

Not that Shockey, who is yet to play all 16 games in a season, is considering changing his style to perhaps better preserve his body.

"This is how I've always played football, every inch, every yard, all out, all the time," he said. "I don't have a button in my head that says, ‘Hey, get down.'

"I wish I did. I don't."

But even when he's injured, it's sometimes difficult to keep Shockey off the field.

Last year, while sidelined by the sports hernia, he nearly beat Payton to midfield at halftime of a game against Oakland in a futile attempt to persuade officials to put a second back on the clock and thus give the Saints a chance to kick a field goal.

"I rather have a player who's passionate about what he doing," Payton said. "Bring me a bunch of those guys."

But Payton and others also praise Shockey's work ethic when it comes to practice and game preparation.

To fellow tight end Billy Miller, the free spirit the fans see – the long blond locks have been trimmed back but the elbow-to-wrist tattoos remain – is countered by a serious-minded student of the game.

"Everybody thinks of Jeremy as a bad boy, bad teammate, always doing things on his own," said Miller, whose locker is next to Shockey's. "But I've found him to be the complete opposite.

"He's a great teammate who both shares his knowledge and accepts insight from other players. He's a great team guy."

Brees talked of how far his relationship with Shockey has come.

"Last year, we really didn't get any time to work together prior to us being thrown together in training camp," he said. "We couldn't build that trust and rapport.

"Now, we've had time to get together, and I think it's shown."

Also evolving is Shockey's relationship with Payton.

It was Payton, Shockey said, from whom he learned most of what it means to be a pro.

That was why, when Shockey wanted to get away from the Giants, he made it clear to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, that New Orleans was by far his preferred choice for his new team.

"I thought I knew a lot about football until I came back to Sean," Shockey said. "It seems like he keeps growing and growing with new ideas and other things."

To Payton, it's a much-more mature Shockey than the one he tutored as a rookie out of Miami.

"Well, we're both older now," Payton said. "You take a player of his passion and ability, and you put in things that are suited for his strengths.

"Just knowing the player like I do and being familiar with him is a key to finding the best packages for him."

The more-mature Shockey is certainly being more circumspect about how he views facing his old team.

Asked to compare New York and New Orleans fans and lifestyles, he offers only that both cities have been through tragedies (9/11 and Hurricane Katrina), which gives them something in common.

Asking him to compare Brees and Eli Manning gets an even shorter answer – "I'm not about to get into that."

And he won't even concede any special incentive for the game.

"I want to see everyone," he said. "I'm going to shake their hands and wish them good luck.

"But I'm like that about every game we play."

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