Jeremy Shockey Is Living Large

Shock and Awe: Celebrating the touchdown catch against the Eagles that helped the Giants earn a playoff.Photo: AP Photos

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!

Shockey with model Vida Guerra at the June opening of Jay Z's 40/40.Photo: Rick Mackler/Globe Photos

Shockey was practically bred for that moment. As a boy in Ada, a map-dot town in south-central Oklahoma, his manic energy bordered on ADD. He fought nonstop with James, his older brother by thirteen months. “My mom was like, ‘I can’t understand why y’all fight! Do y’all hate each other?’ ” Shockey says, grinning. “I used to shoot James with BB guns. That’s the only way I could get him back, ’cause he was so much bigger, you know? Him and his older friends always used to beat me up and torment me. What don’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Family life instilled a sense of urgency in Shockey that only upped his racing pulse. He knows how fast good times can turn bad. His grandmother Evylene was paralyzed when a drunk driver rammed her car from behind; Shockey’s mother, Lucinda, and her sisters, Jolene and Connie, were riding in the backseat. As a kid, Shockey steadied the straw while his grandma sipped soda.

When Shockey was 3, his father walked out and never came back, and Lucinda struggled to pay the family’s bills. (Shockey still seethes at any mention of his deadbeat dad.) It took a second heartbreak, though, before he focused his adrenaline. The Oklahoma Sooners’ head football coach, a venerated figure in the state, rejected Shockey as too small. Shockey enrolled at tiny Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, a junior college, grew two inches and gained 30 pounds of muscle in three months, and dominated virtually every game.

Now Bob Stoops, the OU coach, was interested. Get lost, Shockey said. I’m going to the University of Miami—perennial contenders for the national title. “Stoops told me, ‘Why you want to go there? You’ll never play!’ Man, fuck you,” Shockey says. “I don’t want a head coach telling me what I can or can’t do.”

Shockey impersonated a college student for just three semesters and two football seasons, long enough to catch a touchdown pass against rival Florida State and win a national championship. The highlight Fassel remembers, though, comes from a chat he had with Shockey when the Giants were evaluating potential draft choices.

“Jeremy talked about how, if he thought Miami wasn’t practicing hard enough, he’d cheap-shot a defensive back, knock him on his ass,” Fassel says. “He said, ‘Then after we had a big ol’ fight on the field, we’d go back and practice was pretty competitive.’ Wow!”

In April 2002, a salivating Fassel and Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi grabbed Shockey as their first-round draft pick. The next day, Shockey cruised through Manhattan in the back of a limo while his marketing agent, Robert Bailey, phoned reporters at random. “Hey, come out and meet Jeremy Shockey!” Bailey yelled to me through his cell phone. “He’s gonna be the biggest thing to hit New York in a long time!”

For once, I should have believed the hype.

Playboy Bunny Jennifer sidles up to Shockey. Would the tight end like to squeeze her tail? He would.

Shockey sped past mile-stones in his rookie NFL season, scoring his first touchdown in his second game. Too fast for linebackers to cover and too big for cornerbacks to tackle, Shockey eviscerated defenses. His impact was particularly remarkable considering that, as a tight end, Shockey touched the ball on a mere 7 percent of the Giants’ offensive plays.

Yet what he did between plays—and between games—is what captured fans’ imaginations. The Giants have a reputation, from patrician owner Wellington Mara on down, as a classy, low-key organization. Shockey’s antics—trash-talking opponents, pumping his arm like a referee on greenies to signal a first down—stoked the home crowd not simply because they were fun but because they were such a stunning contrast to the Giants’ unemotional style.

Assimilating Shockey’s personality was the least of the Giants’ problems; the team sputtered to a 6-6 record before gelling. Still, the Giants were eight minutes away from disaster in the regular-season finale, a game they had to win to make the playoffs. They were losing to Philadelphia, 7–0, when Shockey jumped high into the late-December air and ripped a pass out of the hands of Eagles defensive back Brian Dawkins. When the two crashed down in the end zone, Shockey was on top, clutching the ball and screaming into Dawkins’s face, “I got you this time!” The Giants rode the momentum from that TD to a 10–7 overtime win.

The tight end’s excitability proved a liability, however, in the Giants’ season-ending playoff loss to the 49ers. Shockey dropped a pass in the end zone that could have sealed a Giants victory. TV cameras caught him giving the finger to a 49er. Then, as the Giants’ 24-point second-half lead vanished faster than federal taxes on the rich, a frustrated Shockey hurled a cup of ice over his shoulder and into the stands, nailing two kids.

Shockey doesn’t wait for Sunday afternoons to stir up a commotion. He scorns reporters, calling them “cockroaches.” Before playing Philadelphia last October, he went on “Mike and the Mad Dog” and dismissed the Eagles’ defensive backs as overrated. Over on the FM dial, on “The Howard Stern Show,” Shockey decreed that showering with a hypothetical gay teammate “is not going to work.”

Just as opposing defenses quickly became obsessed with accounting for Shockey’s whereabouts, the New York media charted Shockey’s every off-field move. After handing the keys to his metallic pewter Hummer H2 to a designated-driver buddy, Shockey would head through the Lincoln Tunnel (he lives in Jersey, in a townhouse near Giants Stadium) and over to Tao or Lotus or Bungalow 8. “Page Six” baptized him on October 15, placing a Shockey “sighting” right between items on “publicity princess” Lizzie Grubman and “Teutonic temptress” Claudia Schiffer. The tabloids linked him with American Pie actress and life-of-the-party Tara Reid; Playmate of the Year Christina Santiago; and Brittny Gastineau, daughter of the nutty former Jets defensive lineman. He’s also dated Vida Guerra, a pneumatic FHM cover babe.

“I don’t follow the Giants. I hadn’t heard of him before,” Guerra says. “We met at a Sports Illustrated photo shoot. It was a remake of The Dukes of Hazzard; I was Daisy Duke, and he was Bo, I think.” She and Shockey have spent several nights out together. “There’s plenty of bad stories about athletes and women,” she says. “He’s different from what I expected. He’s down-to-earth and respectful.” Her only complaint? “I’m five three, and he’s six five. I feel like a peanut next to him!” Guerra says. “But he’s not as rough as he is on the field.”

During the off-season, Shockey popped up courtside at a Laker game (next to Jack) and jetted off to Las Vegas for an Oscar de la Hoya fight. He canoodled with Guerra at the opening of Jay-Z’s 40/40 club and introduced himself to Britney Spears at a party at Capitale. “You want the truth or you want the Post?” Shockey says, referring to the “Page Six” item claiming he’d been “shot down” by the pop tartlet. Shockey says he shook hands with Spears but didn’t cast any lines. “I wish I did now, ’cause I probably woulda got shot down anyway, but at least it woulda been true! Now it’s false and I look bad without even trying!”

He did better at the Playboy Super Bowl party in January, though he didn’t try very hard there, either. Shockey strolled into a historic San Diego mansion done up like a bordello and glanced at Hef, who was reclining on a red velvet chaise longue while being ostentatiously fondled by Sandy and Mandy. Ashton Kutcher, Carmen Electra, Tom Arnold, Brittany Murphy, and Michael Chiklis mingled. But you could practically hear eyeballs being detached from bunny cleavage as heads turned to check out the enormous blond guy towering over the scene.

Shockey’s entourage was characteristically eclectic. He brought Robert Bailey, his marketing agent, and Drew Rosenhaus, his football agent; a couple of Oklahoma high-school pals; his Humvee dealer; and Page McConnell, the keyboard player in Phish, Shockey’s favorite band.

“I ask him every so often if he’s got anything going on with a particular girl,” McConnell said, laughing. “Shockey says, ‘You know me—always on the rebound.’ ”

Bunny Jennifer sidled up to Shockey. Would the tight end like to squeeze her tail? He would.

Naturally, there’s a clamor to sell the “bad boy.” Publicist Ron Berkowitz has a Miami-alumnus bond with Shockey and is trying to monetize his friend’s nighttime rambles. “It’s not about going out; it’s about being seen in the right places,” Berkowitz says. “Tiki Barber and Derek Jeter are the only crossover athletes in this town. You see ’em on Visa commercials, you see ’em on shoe commercials. You don’t see anyone else. Jeremy is starting to feed into that. He could be the next guy.”

Bailey, Shockey’s marketing agent, takes it a step further. “Tiki is a great football player and he’s a nice guy,” he says. “You can see it through the TV screen—he’s always smiling. Same thing with Michael Strahan. Jeremy Shockey, you don’t get the word nice. He’ll sit down and talk with fans all day, but he’s an edgy, brash guy. You gotta be edgy to break through to consumers.”

At the moment, though, Shockey’s endorsements are haphazard. He’s hawking Casio watches mainly because his name fits (almost) with the brand’s preexisting G-Shock line. His contract to pitch “Euro-casual” Steve Madden footwear resulted from Shockey’s calling up the company last fall asking for some free size 13s. Bailey recently refused to let Nike showcase Shockey in its fall football campaign because he thinks his client deserves more money. Shockey’s deal with Nike ends after this season. “We’re renegotiating,” Bailey says, “but if everything falls through and Jeremy has another good season, it might be in our best interest to do something else.”

Unfortunately—at least for those who’d commodify Shockey—he’s temperamentally unsuited to packaging. “I’ll do what I want to do,” he says. “A lot of people want me to come to this appearance, come to that party, wear this or that shirt. I’m not gonna run myself down because I did too much shit off the field. I’m in bed in the season a lot earlier than most people think.”

For all the headlines Shockey generated with his radio cracks last year, what he didn’t say is more interesting. WFAN was paying Shockey $1,000 a pop for once-a-week live call-in segments with Mike Francesa and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, whose show is a prime launching pad for New York sports stars. Shockey’s first few appearances were rote. Then he blew off the segment. Twice. After the second no-show, Francesa and Russo ripped Shockey on the air.

Maybe Shockey was just being rude. But his willingness to antagonize two of the most powerful media figures in New York sports is also telling. How little does he care about sucking up to authority? Shockey still isn’t sure which one is Mike and which one is Mad Dog. And he’s not about to apologize for his lame gay jokes on the Stern show. “So if you’re reading, Howard, let me get back on your show!” Shockey says. “The Giants tell me they banned you, but I want to be on with you every week.”

“You can’t have it both ways,” Jim Fassel says. “You can’t have a bunch of choirboys and expect them to go out and fight their ass off on the field. As a coach, what you’re trying to figure out is, are they a bad person, or are they a good person that just kind of drifts a little bit? Shockey is a good guy. But you’re gonna have to live with the edge in Shockey if you want him to be the player he is. You don’t like that edge, then don’t have him on your team. Me, I want him on my team in the worst way.”

Fassel’s team starts the 2003 season with high expectations. The Giants spent millions to acquire special-teams veterans, trying to ensure there’ll be no repeat of last season’s fiascoes, like the wild field-goal snap that sealed the Giants’ doom in San Francisco. Wide receivers Ike Hilliard and Tim Carter are healthy again, giving Kerry Collins targets besides Amani Toomer and a certain blond tight end, who should, as a result, have even more room to get open. It’s the Giants’ defense—still in need of depth and size—that will determine whether Big Blue is a championship contender.

Then there’s Shockey. One year of NFL experience has taught him patience, he says. More frightening for Giants opponents: The ligament damage in Shockey’s ankle—his performance last season came on one good leg—has healed. And Shockey burns to avenge the embarrassing playoff loss to the 49ers. So no matter how late he partied during the off-season, he showed up for the Giants’ “Seven a.m. Club,” the group of hard-core linemen who gathered each morning for two hours of weightlifting and an hour of running.

Ask a man who knows Shockey well if the big city’s charms could distract the big tight end, and he answers immediately. “Nah,” the man says. “All he truly cares about are football and fucking.”

Shockey nods and laughs when the comment is relayed. Then he trims his priorities even further. “Football is the ultimate thing,” he says. “Girls come. And they go. Football is never gonna go.”

Jeremy Shockey Is Living Large