Jeremy Shockey looks small. This is weird, because shockey stands six feet five inches tall, weighs 260 pounds, and has biceps as thick as suspension-bridge cables. But on this July afternoon, the Giants’ star tight end is sitting in a dingy cinder-block room on the second floor of Mel’s Cite du Cinema, a chilly soundstage in a remote corner of Montreal. Shockey is midway through a daylong TV-ad shoot for Casio watches (tough guy . . . tough watch!). Two makeup people paint fake blood and dirt on his face and chest.
“Yeah, the glamorous life,” he drawls wearily, his shoulders slumped. He stares into the mirror at the bogus scars on his skin; even Shockey, a man whose stylistic role models include his new pal Kid Rock, realizes he looks cheesy.
For the past six months, Shockey has been gulping down the attention that comes from being 22, single, and one of the NFL’s brightest new stars. Some of it has been pure decadent fun—like the three-day bender in Puerto Rico with Kid and Pam Anderson. But much of it got old quick—like the photo shoot for GQ where Shockey nearly fell off a four-story building.
“I’d rather play some golf and drink some beer with my friends,” Shockey says. “Like right now—I hear Montreal has the beautiful-est women in the world, and we’re in a warehouse shooting a commercial!” Tonight, his plans include a “titty bar” called Super Sexe. “I know all the French I need to,” he says. “Ménage à trois!”
Maybe it’s the prospect of naked women; Shockey begins to perk up. Then the talk turns to football. From his first exhibition game in August 2002, when he flattened three Houston Texan would-be tacklers on one 48-yard catch-and-run, Shockey was electrifying. By mid-season, his No. 80 jersey was a national best-seller. The papers chronicled every snip of his gelled blond hair.
“The only guy who was hating me was Parcells,” Shockey says. As head coach of the Giants, Bill Parcells won two Super Bowls; last season, he was a commentator for ESPN. “I never watch TV,” Shockey says. “But my buddies were like, ‘Why does Bill Parcells hate you so much? He’s talking about, “I never seen a player get so much hype off of doing nothing.” ’ ”
Shockey’s backbone straightens. His blue eyes narrow to slits.
“Parcells is not my kinda guy. He says he quits, then he wants to come back and coach. Do something! Stay in commentary or stay in football or get the hell out of everybody’s life!”
This year, after “final” stints leading the New England Patriots and then the Jets, Parcells has unretired again. He brings the Dallas Cowboys to Giants Stadium on September 15; Shockey looks ready to take them on right here, right now: “All my buddies are like, ‘Why’s he dogging you? After you catch a pass on him this year, you oughtta throw it right at his fat head!’ ”
Shockey’s chest swells. “Let’s see how much Parcells wins this year,” he spits. “I’ll make him pay when we play them. The homo.”
Exuberantly competitive and I-don’t-give-a-shit impolitic: The combination has made Jeremy Shockey an All-Pro on the field and an instant sensation off it. Shockey can be a jerk, but his Parcells rant isn’t about homophobia. It’s about how Shockey takes every slight, channels it through his mouth, and uses it to rev himself up to ramming speed.
He is a terrific football player, the only rookie named to the 2002 Pro Bowl squad. His 74 catches for 894 yards was five times better than the Giants tight end he replaced. It’s Shockey’s attitude, though, that radically transformed the team. The Giants’ offense was timid; Shockey made it intimidating. His snarling, punishing physicality, a style usually associated with defensive legends—people like Dick Butkus and Lawrence Taylor—inspired a new mental toughness in Big Blue and helped lead the team to a playoff berth.
Shockey’s hunger to live just as large off the field has propelled him into the gossip columns and provoked desperate media invocations of the city’s last swinging football hero, Broadway Joe Namath. “The incessant comparison of Shockey to Namath shows the poverty of the stars we have now—I’m not talking about their ability but their charisma,” says Mark Kriegel, the former Daily News columnist who’s writing a Namath biography. “Joe clearly violated the orthodoxies of pro football—some of them were cosmetic, like the white shoes, and some were real, like bolting from training camp. I’m not sure what orthodoxy Jeremy Shockey is violating. He comes after guys like Brian Bosworth and Deion Sanders—guys who were fully cognizant of their own marketing.”
There is, however, one huge difference between Shockey and look-at-me idiots like Bosworth and Terrell “Sharpie Sock” Owens: Shockey is playing to an audience of one—himself. His eruptions aren’t calculated to push the Jeremy Shockey brand, only to push himself further on the field. In our focus-grouped, Botox’d, “reality”-show era, Shockey is spontaneous. He’s both an NFL stud and New York’s first great twenty-first-century crossover jock star because of his unfiltered id. He’ll never match Namath’s cultural significance, but Shockey is perfect for his times. In 1968, Namath opened his own swank hangout, Bachelors III, a Lexington Avenue bar that drew gangsters, hipsters, and beautiful women. Shockey treats himself and his buddies to lap dances at Scores. He’s a Broadway Joe for a Vice City world.
It’s the hokey stuff that foot-ball lore is made of: a veteran forcing a rookie to sing his alma mater’s fight song. Last August, on his first day in the Giants’ training camp, Shockey turned the hackneyed moment into the cornerstone of his fast-growing legend as a hard-ass. He was ordered to sing during dinner. After I finish eating, Shockey replied. Now, demanded third-year linebacker Brandon Short. Shockey sang, then added this coda: “That’s for you, B. Short, and your fucking hearing problem.”
Short jumped Shockey; Shockey punched back. “I was ten, fifteen feet from where it started,” says Giants head coach Jim Fassel. “By the time I jumped on the pile and separated everybody, we had fists flying, bottles flying, tables being broken.” Fassel is downright gleeful at the memory. “Later, a lot of people were worried: ‘Oh, God, we can’t have this, it’s embarrassing.’ The NFL wanted to get involved, all their little deals as far as anger management. Unbelievable,” he says. “At the time, when the fight was going on, all I could think of was: My man is here. My man has arrived!”