Title game has many meanings for Shiancoe

Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe wants to get to the Super Bowl, but to do that he will have to go through two close friends and former teammates. This week he's been talking trash with Darren Sharper and Jeremy Shockey, two players that can hold their own in that department.

Sunday's game in New Orleans is going to have a lot of significance to a lot of Vikings for a lot of different reasons. The game can't get much bigger (except for the winner). The Vikings haven't been to a Super Bowl since Jan. 9, 1977. To put that in perspective, only three Vikings players had been born when that happened – Brett Favre, Pat Williams and Ryan Longwell. It's been a long time coming and the players are psyched.

For players like Favre, Williams and Darius Reynaud, it will be the first time playing in the postseason so close to family and friends. But for one Viking, Sunday will be bring a double reunion – going up against one of his best friends from the team and trying to outperform his mentor.

Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe will spend much of his Sunday night trying to make plays on former Vikings teammate Darren Sharper. In doing so, he will try to deny Sharper and teammate Jeremy Shockey a chance at getting to the Super Bowl. Shiancoe was the understudy to Shockey when both played for the New York Giants and left New York via free agency to get his chance to prove his mettle as a pass-catching tight end in his own right. Although neither practiced Wednesday due to knee injuries, Shockey said he expects to see both of his old friends on the other sideline in action Sunday.

Shiancoe and Sharper were tight as Vikings teammates. Their lockers at Winter Park were next to one another. They worked against each other during practice every week for two years and developed a friendship that will find them going head-to-head for real for the first time since Shiancoe became a prime tight end receiving threat.

Shiancoe said he has maintained contact with Sharper during the season and that their friendship will add some zing to their matchup Sunday. He hinted that, if he scores a touchdown, he would imitate what he calls "The Sharper Dance" and what the safety calls the "Sharper Shake" – a shoulder-rolling post-interception dance Vikings fans have seen before.

"That's a little sugar in your water," Shiancoe said. "With Sharper, I know him well – on the field and off the field. He's playing at a high level. Everybody knows that. He's got to see us, though."

When asked if he thought there was any chance Sharper could shut him down, Shiancoe went third-person in his denial of the possibility.

"He can't shut down Shiancoe," Shiancoe said. "Maybe he'll be able to cover me once every blue moon, but not consistently. No way."

Shiancoe said he and Sharper have been exchanging texts since they earned their way into a head-to-head battle and that Sharper has been giving him hints on things he should try. But Shank said he's having none of it from a veteran like Sharper. Why? He knows him too well.

"He's giving me advice, but I don't need it," Shiancoe said with a laugh. "I don't need any advice from Sharp. I don't trust him."

Shiancoe's role Sunday could be a vital one for the Vikings offense. He said the possibility exists that the Saints will employ a defense similar to what the Arizona Cardinals did against the Vikings last month – blanket both Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin and force Shiancoe and Bernard Berrian to make plays.

"If they play us like us like Arizona did when they went high and low on Sidney and in and out on Percy, that means me, Bernard and the backs are going to be one on one," Shiancoe said. "There will be a lot of opportunities to make plays."

While Shiancoe is expected to make plays for the Vikings Sunday, the same is true of Shockey on the other sideline. Shiancoe and Shockey were teammates in New York for the first four years of his career. Unlike the last two seasons, when Shiancoe has become a scoring machine, he was little more than a glorified blocker with the Giants. In four years with the Giants, he caught 35 passes in 64 games.

He had to leave New York to seek his own NFL stardom, but he said that he and Shockey have remained very close and that he has the utmost respect for him. He doesn't look back negatively on his time in New York, because what he learned there has made him a three-down tight end with multiple skill sets.

"I think it made me a more complete player," Shiancoe said of being a blocking TE in New York. "I already had the wiring for pass-catching ability – I averaged 20-25 yards a catch in college. They knew what they were getting. Once I got my blocking down, I have both elements now. I can run block and go out and catch passes. It definitely helped me."

It was clear that Shiancoe maintains a high level of respect for Shockey as a player, a mentor a friend and a trash talker. The two spoke Tuesday night and, while Shockey was quick to tell Shiancoe he was proud of his accomplishments the last two years with the Vikings, he was also quick to talk a little smack. He talked down the Vikings linebackers and talked up the Saints' shutdown cornerbacks as being able to take away what the Vikings want. Although they will be opponents on Sunday, their friendship was obvious and Shiancoe's mutual respect is more than returned in kind.

"Even with injuries, he's playing at a high level," Shiancoe said. "Sometimes his 80 percent is better than somebody else's 110 percent. I learned a lot from him. A lot of what you see from me, I learned from him – the ins and outs (of the game) – and how to be a professional. I got to sit back and watch him and soak it in like a sponge."

Shockey is one of the best in-game trash talkers in the NFL, but Shiancoe said he's been making strides in that regard himself. While the kidding back and forth with both will likely continue up until Sunday, once the ball is the air, both Shiancoe and Shockey will be all business.

"I'm sure we'll be talking some more trash before game time," Shiancoe said. "We both want to get to the Super Bowl and only one of us is going to. It may come down to whichever one of us makes a big play to help his team get the win."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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