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Redskins tackle Jon Jansen, an eight-year veteran, wears minimum body armor. "Nobody wears pads anymore," he says. "I try to find the smallest possible pair of legal shoulder pads." Offensive linemen are so huge and their pads so tiny, it's often hard to tell during practice whether they're wearing any pads at all.
Quarterbacks are a notable exception, because they are especially vulnerable and in many cases irreplaceable. Their protection extends to flak jackets and hip pads. But the Saints' Bush, a running back subjected to repeated shots, wears only a helmet, shoulder pads with extensions to protect his chest and back, and thin knee pads, augmented occasionally by a paper-thin thigh pad if he's nursing a bruise. "Maybe I'll wear more when I get older," says Bush. "Right now, it's all about speed."
Not just speed. "Let's be honest," says Strahan, who also wears the minimum. "A lot of it is vanity. Hip pads, butt pads, elbow pads; they make you look frumpy. They take away your aerodynamic line."
Then there is Shockey, who often fights for extra yardage while taking blows from every defender who can reach him before the whistle. "I wear every piece of padding I can find," he says. "Why wouldn't I?"
Big Hit 6
Indeed, why wouldn't he, in light of hits like this one? Late in a 36-22 loss to the Eagles, Shockey escaped a chuck and ran his route straight up the left hash marks, shadowed by All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins. It appeared Shockey had created a small window of daylight for quarterback Eli Manning, but in the best of circumstances the seam route to the tight end is a difficult throw.
Strong safety Quintin Mikell was sitting deep on the same hash, reading Manning. "I could see he was going to try to thread the ball in there," says Mikell, "but I thought Dawk had enough coverage that Eli was going to have to float it."
Manning didn't float it, but he threw short and to Shockey's back shoulder, forcing Shockey to brake, turn back toward the quarterback and reach out with both arms. In this awkward position, Shockey was able to juggle the ball only briefly before losing it. Just as the ball fell away, Mikell unloaded on Shockey's back and right shoulder. "I weigh 200 pounds, and Shockey weighs 250," says Mikell. "In that situation I just launched with everything I had. I wasn't thinking about interference or anything else. I just know if he catches that ball, I'm in trouble."
Shockey expected the blow. He always does. "When I go down the middle and the ball is in the air, I'm going to take a big shot every time," he says. "A really good shot, you're going to be halfway knocked out, can't breathe, seeing stars. But it's coming either way, so I might as well do my best to catch the damn ball."
The impact of Mikell's hit drove Shockey into Dawkins. Shockey popped up--"That one was good, but it didn't affect me in a big way," he says--but Dawkins stayed down for half a minute, more dazed than either Mikell or Shockey.