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NFC PLAYOFFS Shockey puts new life in Giants' drive to wild-card berth

Wednesday, January 1, 2003

The New York tight end had 74 catches for 894 yards and missed two games with a toe injury.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- With his straggly blond hair hanging from his helmet, Jeremy Shockey bounded up and adjusted his face mask. Then he rolled the ball with a flamboyant windmill motion as if he were about to throw dice.
The raucous, inspirational leader of the New York Giants had just made a catch and been leveled by a blow that flattens receivers and silences crowd.
Shockey, however, is not the type to stay down.
"You have all those pads on," the rookie said. "It really doesn't hurt."
That bit of swagger against the Philadelphia Eagles in a crucial game last weekend in many ways typifies Shockey. In just his first season, he has turned up the volume and pumped life into the Giants while giving opponents good reason to worry.
Shockey was drafted 14th overall out of Miami. Many thought he could become the next Mark Bavaro, acknowledged as the greatest tight end in team history. Already, he's a Pro Bowl player. Maybe it's just the beginning.
"I honestly believe he has a chance to be the best that ever played that position," Giants tight end Dan Campbell said.
Shockey had 74 catches for 894 yards in a season in which he missed two games with a toe injury and most of training camp while his contract was being worked out.
Second best for rookie
The catches and yardage are the both second best in NFL history for a rookie tight end. Keith Jackson of Philadelphia had 88 receptions in 1988, and Hall of Famer Mike Ditka of Chicago set the yardage record with 1,076 in 1961.
The 74 catches were also the most in the league by a tight end this season and broke Bavaro's single-season team record for the position (66 in 1986).
"I don't see anyone else like him out there," Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn said. "He's just faster than everyone else. Bigger, stronger and he can block."
Now that Shockey is healthy, so is the Giants' offense. It averaged 29 points in winning its final four games and earning a wild-card playoff berth Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
After almost every catch, Shockey can be counted to enliven his teammates and the crowd.
"We watch the video replay just to see what he's going to do after the play," Sehorn said.
Two weeks ago in Indianapolis, the 6-foot-5, 252-pounder put his hand to his ear to encourage screaming fans in a 44-27 win.
Outstanding in playoff clincher
Shockey was even better at home against the Eagles when the Giants (10-6) clinched their playoff berth with a 10-7 overtime win.
On the Giants' touchdown, Shockey outjumped Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins for the ball in the corner of the end zone. Then, with his head bouncing up and down like a bobble-head doll, Shockey yapped at Dawkins face to face. He finished the display by heaving the ball 50 rows into the stands.
"That's his personality," Campbell said. "If it was him and someone else in a parking lot, he would do the same thing. He imposes his will on people."
When linebacker Brandon Short got on Shockey the first day he reported to training camp, the two got into a fight. Coach Jim Fassel didn't mind -- he liked the kid's attitude.
Shockey has that rare combination of speed and strength, making him too fast for linebackers and too strong for defensive backs. Cowboys assistant Bruce Coslet has said most players with Shockey's talent are playing power forward in the NBA.
For all his bravado, Shockey rarely talks about himself to the media.
"He just wants to play football," Fassel said. "He understands the media and all that stuff, but he doesn't like to do any of that stuff. He wants to be Jeremy Shockey and come out and hang out and play football. That's him. He's a very simple guy when you come down to it."