METAIRIE, La. – New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey(notes) appears to have emerged from his time in football purgatory with a decidedly optimistic attitude. Finally healthy after suffering a leg fracture late in the 2007 (an injury that cost him a chance to play in the Super Bowl for the New York Giants) and tendon tears in both legs which left him hobbled for much of 2008, Shockey looks like the swift, powerful receiver who was a first-round pick in 2002.
With that in mind, the irreverent Shockey talked about what he considers the most troubling year of his career and what lies ahead for him, including a life as a world traveler and entrepreneur.
Shockey was limited to 12 games in his first season with the Saints.
Cole: Your buddy Plaxico Burress(notes) wrote in his book "Giant" that you get hurt a lot because you fight too hard for every yard. He said you need to make what he called better "business decisions" on the field to stay healthy. Your thoughts?
Shockey: I wish it was so easy as you describe. This is how I've always played football – to fight for every inch, every yard. Plaxico plays a different way. He slides. You see him make a catch and he does the baseball slide. If that's a business decision, it's a business decision. In the middle of a play, I don't think I've got to slide or I'm going to get hurt.
Cole: Is this some testosterone-filled, manhood thing for you?
Shockey: Obviously, you haven't played organized sports at this high a level.
Cole: Yes, that's obvious, but this is what Burress and other players talk about – saving themselves for the long haul.
Shockey: Well, I don't have that button in my head that says, "Hey, get down." I wish I did. I don't. My attitude is full go, go full speed. Last year, even after I had the surgery, I wanted to be out there – full go – and play and try my best.
Cole: When you can't play at full go, how much does it hurt you?
Shockey: It hurts very bad. It's an empty feeling that's hard to describe. When I can't do something I love and enjoy so much, it's hard. We had this speaker come in the other day who had worked for President [George W.] Bush, and he talked about going to work in the White House. The [players] were talking to him about how he can be around these great athletes whose heads are so big they can barely walk through the door. He said, "Listen, the guys you are around, those 45 or 50 guys on a roster, they truly enjoy what they're doing." And then we asked him, "You're the CEO of a company; does everybody truly love working at your company?" And he said no.
Everybody in this game loves their occupation, and that's very unique. So when you can't play … it's a feeling that's really hard to describe. To me, I've matured a lot over the years. In some sense, it's good to sit back and watch a little, but at the same time it's hard to sit back and think, "I haven't hurt anybody in my life, I've never been arrested; why is this happening to me?" I had a lot of those questions in my head last year. Why is this happening to me? Why did I break my leg with the Giants? Why, in my first training camp with the Saints, did I pop both the tendons in my legs?
Cole: Do you ever think about what you're going to do to replace the feeling you get from playing when you're done?
Shockey: I have businesses. I own [a business] in Panama. I sell art, I sell houses, a lot of things in Panama. That's a competitive thing for me. Whatever I do is going to be a competitive thing. I love to fish, deep-sea fish. I've been in a lot of tournaments in various countries. I've won a lot of money doing billfish tournaments.
Cole: So, you're going to escape to Panama when you retire and we'll never see you again?
Shockey: I probably will not retire in the United States. I'll have a home here, but I doubt I'll retire in this country. I'm always somewhere.
Cole: So replacing the thrill of playing doesn't sound easy.
Shockey: It's hard to explain. Because if you ask people what it's like to be sick and you can't go to work, most people would say that sucks. But in the back of their mind, they're thinking, "Cool, I can stay home for the day and chill." In this sport, you want to be part of it. We're competitive people out there every day, and another thing I'll miss most about all this is the locker room: joking around with the guys, telling stories about five years ago, girl stories, going-out stories, different experiences in your life.
Cole: So your approach is that you're all in, every day, in this game
Shockey: I enjoy it. This year I obviously enjoy it a lot more because I'm healthy. Last year was a really hard time for me. I would say I will remember last year more than any other year – not all the accolades and all the awards. It will be last year more than anything in my life because of the broken leg, the trade went down, fighting back from the adversity of popping both tendons …
Cole: And all the negative stuff from the fans in New York?
Shockey: That's fine; I don't care what those people think. In my mind, I will remember last year more than any other year because of all the adversity I had to face. Coming to a new team and wanting to do so well and then getting hurt. I was thinking, These guys gave up a lot for me and I can't really do much. I probably only played six games healthy last year and I still had 50 receptions – no touchdowns but a ton of first downs. This year is going to be a lot different and I feel it's going to be a lot more satisfying.
Cole: So do you have a goal, some numbers in mind?
Shockey: I always have a goal, always have goals and numbers, but I don't share them with anyone except [Saints quarterback] Drew Brees(notes). That's it. It's a different feeling when you're healthy and can do things. When I was living in New York my first two or three years, you realize you're always going to have a strain or a bruise or something that's wrong with you, a cut on your knee or whatever. But to be truly hurt like I have been the past two [seasons] is really a hard feeling to describe. I was probably only getting like two or three hours of sleep a night.
Cole: Do you feel almost as if you're chained up?
Shockey: I was just really depressed. It was a very depressing year, a very black, dark time in my life. That's why, when you're healthy, you have to take it and come out and work every day. There are very few guys like Michael Strahan(notes) who get to go 14 or 15 years and only go on IR twice in his whole career. Granted, I only went on IR once in my career, but I have yet to play a full season. I've always missed one game here, one game there, two games here. Maybe if I made some business decisions like Plaxico – slid on this play or that play – I would have. I just don't think that way.
Plaxico Burress' book, "Giant", was co-authored by Jason Cole
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