"Name, school and signing bonus, son. Then I sing," said linebacker Brandon Short, pointing to the team's top draft choice on his first day in training camp. The legend of Jeremy Shockey was about to be born.
It's customary for veterans to demand that rookies sing their college fight song upon their arrival at camp. Shockey, the No. 14 pick, out of Miami, knew it was coming, but he wasn't happy about the timing. He hadn't gone to bed the previous night because of an all-night trip from Miami to the team's camp in Albany, N.Y., and he hadn't had a meal all day—and it was dinnertime. Shockey wanted to eat first, but Short was insistent. "Name, school, signing bonus, song. Now!" So the 6'5", 263-pound rookie tight end stood up in the cafeteria and said, " Jeremy Shockey, Miami Hurricanes, $3.3 million...."
"Can't hear you! What?" Short yelled.
Shockey said it once more, but Short hollered for him to repeat it again. Shockey did so, then sang the Hurricanes' fight song and ended by staring at Short and saying, "That's for you and your hearing problem, B. Short." A rook mouthing off to a vet? Intolerable. Short flew at Shockey. A five-second brawl ensued.
As the blond, mop-topped Shockey sat in the weight room two weeks later, he smiled mischievously and said, "They haven't pushed me around since then."
Shockey's arrival bodes well for an offense that has been anything but macho in recent years—not with bookish Kerry Collins at quarterback, large-but-soft Ron Dayne at running back and a line that wasn't feisty. In the first preseason game, against the Texans, Shockey ran a crossing pattern, caught the pass from backup quarterback Jesse Palmer, broke one tackle, escaped an attempt to bring him down by his face mask, bowled over a third defender and dragged a fourth five yards before going down. The Giants' defense was so unaccustomed to seeing that sort of effort that a couple of vets danced with glee. Short even bounded over to coach Jim Fassel and said, "You see that, Coach? He leveled those s.o.b.'s!"
"We did not draft a tight end," general manager Ernie Accorsi says. "We drafted a playmaker."
Now, instead of dumping the ball to a plodding fullback or an overused Tiki Barber, Collins has a threat in midrange patterns. Shockey can run after the catch as well as any other NFC tight end. That's huge for a team that had just 17 tight end receptions last season, the lowest production of any team at that position. Fassel is excited about the strategic options Shockey gives the team, but he's just as happy to have a player this competitive. "His competitiveness will separate him from other great players," Fassel says.
"I always was a pretty competitive guy," Shockey says, "but when I spent a year in junior college, I took it to another level. I mean, junior college football is 120, 130 guys trying to make a name for themselves. It's like prison rules, man. We'd have 10 fights in one day—on the field, in the dorm, in the cafeteria. When I got to Miami, it was drilled into us that one slipup on one Saturday could cost us the national championship. So if guys were laying out of practice during the week or we weren't practicing hard, I'd give somebody on defense a stiff arm, just to start something and get the tempo right."
No Giants player was more beloved over the past two decades than tight end Mark Bavaro. While Shockey is a more versatile receiver than Bavaro, the rookie is not the blocker that Bavaro was. Not yet. Shockey will also have to get used to getting roughed up in the five-yard bump zone because he'll be the most dangerous weapon in the passing game from Week 1. "I don't want to sound arrogant," he says, "but the defense might shut me down on one or two out of five plays, but I'll make them pay eventually. I live every day to compete in this league. I can't wait."