It has been a long time since the NFL, which lays an increasingly thick corporate veneer over an endeavor rife with passion and pain, has seen a player like Shockey. "Yeah," he says, "people compare me to that guy...uh...Butka?" Good enough: It's no reach to say that Shockey's a combination of storied Chicago Bears meat eaters Mike Ditka and Dick Butkus, the respective standards for throwback tight end and linebacker. Too big for safeties to handle, too fast for linebackers, too cocky for every opposing crowd, the 22-year-old Shockey caught 74 passes for 894 yards and a Pro Bowl berth last season. But those numbers hardly capture the helmet-tossing, expletive-spewing persona he brought to the field. Shockey's jersey is the No. 1 Giants seller in the New York City area because no other player so perfectly combines fury and glee.
"Guys over [in Hawaii] were like, What is wrong with him? Is he out of his mind?" says Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who accompanied Shockey to the Pro Bowl. "But he loves what he does. He has a passion for it. There are not too many guys you can truly say that about. What people see is the real Jeremy Shockey, not someone faking it for attention. He wants to throw the ball in the stands because, hey, he's excited. If you're a purist, you're not going to like it. If you're on the opposing team, you're not going to like it. But if you're on our team, you're going to love it."
Four years ago Shockey was just another teenager in the teenage uniform-baggy shorts, baseball cap on backward, scraggly beard—watching NFL games and all the beer commercials in between, just an obscure tight end at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, wondering what it would be like to play at that level and be in a place totally unlike Miami, Okla., a place where constant parties and half-dressed women actually exist. Now here it is, June 2003, and he's still wearing the uniform, but everything else has changed. Blond hair flows down his neck. "Last night? It was an opening party for this club, a strip club but a real nice one," he says. "I wanted to go so bad because I know the girls who work there. I was like, Man, I gotta go?
But he didn't. No, Jeremy Shockey, whose life has come to resemble a beer commercial on endless loop, isn't going soft. It's just that, well, he has spent most of this offseason in a whirlwind of partying—hitting strip joints, losing in Atlantic City and winning in Las Vegas, squiring Playmates, doing everything a 22-year-old American man handed the golden combo of celebrity, money and youth would do, given half a chance. The E! network should do a special on him: Wild On! Jeremy Shockey. There was that three-day binge hanging with Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson in Puerto Rico, then a trip on a booze-and-babe-stocked private jet out to Vegas with a pack of new friends. "Great time, for three days," Shockey says. "That's what I'm looking for: a great time." But no, not last night. Shockey and the Giants are smack in the middle of minicamp at the Meadowlands, and, well, Shockey learned a few lessons last season.
More than once, he had hit practice after partying two days in a row, and it had hurt. "You got to pace yourself," he says. "Everybody's inviting me to parties. I can't say yes to everything, and I can't say no to everything. I've got to at least try everything once."
" Shockey!" Giants owner Wellington Mara shouted upon seeing him on the day minicamp opened. "I've been reading about you in all the papers." Who hasn't? There was the item about his dating starlet Tara Reid, and the one about his hitting on singer Britney Spears and getting rejected. Friends from Oklahoma started calling after that one: "You got dissed by Britney? Cool."
Shockey, grinning, says it wasn't so. "I wasn't trying to get her," he says. "I was with another girl. If I hadn't been with the girl, I probably would've tried to get Britney, and I probably would've gotten dissed. So, uh, I guess they've got a point there."
Derek Jeter might have toned down his nightclubbing this summer, but Shockey, working out of his West New York, N.J., condo overlooking the Hudson River, has picked up the slack. Photographers are hunting him in nightspots across Manhattan; Shockey just missed a paparazzi moment when, in the middle of a lap dance, he deftly ducked his head behind the dancer. The last time a New York bachelor partook so ravenously, so openly, of the Manhattan buffet, Joe Namath was wearing a fur coat and panty hose.
"What's tonight? Wednesday?" Shockey says. "A couple of good parties tonight."
That he says this, knowing the Giants have voiced mild concern about his leisure pursuits, is part of Shockey's charm. He is perfectly aware that what he says and does runs contrary to every front-office instinct. But he also knows that Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, coach Jim Fassel and Mara—maybe Mara most of all—see Shockey's on-field emotion and off-field carousing as a package that might not tolerate tampering. Shockey knows, too, that his crude, funny, unrepentantly male outlook appeals to a core NFL constituency that has no interest in Kurt Warner's charitable works. Shockey isn't about saying the right things ("Are they real or fake?" he asks of the breasts of one NBA star's wife. "I'm going to the game tomorrow night. I'll ask her straight up") or acting responsibly. He is about saying dopey things on Howard Stern and thumbing through lad magazines; he's about physical toughness and mean motives, about all the deliciously tawdry rewards bestowed on anyone in his position carefree enough to embrace them.