A couple of controversies ago, Jeremy Shockey stood in the shade of a tree outside the cafeteria at training camp in Albany, New York. It was late July, and Shockey, the Giants' enigmatic tight end, was talking about his knack for creating off-field headlines.
"The controversy and that stuff, it doesn't affect me at all," Shockey said. "When I had controversy off the field, I played better. You can write that. I don't think I've settled down or anything like that."
Minutes later, taking his own cue, he used a three-letter word to describe how difficult coach Tom Coughlin can be.
Another Shockey-induced storm was launched.
"Shockey's going to be Shockey," receiver Plaxico Burress said the next day, aptly summing up how the Giants look at their most unpredictable star.
The Giants are in a continual tug of war with the good and not-so-good sides of Shockey. On one hand, he is a fierce competitor who has been to the Pro Bowl after three of his four NFL seasons and he found a soft spot in the heart of the Giants owner Wellington Mara.
On the other, Shockey is a ticking public-relations time bomb with a broad repertory. Before his second season, he revealed his sexual fantasies to a magazine and called Cowboys coach Bill Parcells a derogatory name.
The latest flare-up came two weeks ago and still smolders. After a 42-30 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle, Shockey sat alone at his locker with his head bowed. A year earlier in Seattle, he had 10 catches for 127 yards in an overtime loss to the Seahawks. This time, he had four rather meaningless catches, and only one before halftime, when the Giants trailed, 35-3.
As tackle Luke Petitgout answered a reporter's question, Shockey snapped from his silence. He interrupted his teammate and seconds later uttered his latest headline-making quote.
"We got outplayed and outcoached," Shockey said. "Write that one down."
Coughlin met with Shockey the next day, and then, visibly angered, told reporters that calling out the coaches publicly was "not done."
Shockey received only a scolding and he was expected to start yesterday against the Washington Redskins at Giants Stadium.
The Giants (1-2) desperately hope that Shockey's axiom about playing better with controversy turns out to be correct. This season Shockey has only one catch in the first half, when the Giants have been outscored, 68-17.
"You like to get him involved early because it gets him going, gets him fired up," quarterback Eli Manning said on Thursday.
Shockey signals first downs after a big catch and raises his arms in disgust when a ball does not come his way. On the sideline, he is equally prone to throwing his helmet in anger or waving his arms to stoke the crowd.
The Giants' concern is that Shockey's inability to manage the anger, to harness his on-field intensity before it creates another uncomfortable off-field diversion.
The man who spends much of his time trying to draw the line for Shockey is Mike Pope, the Giants' tight-ends coach. A 64-year-old from North Carolina with a gentlemanly air, Pope has developed a tight, fatherly relationship with Shockey, who was raised by a single mother.
"Impulse is a hard thing to sometimes control, and this is a very spirited racehorse," Pope said last week.
"Very often before he can put his actions into words they boil over into frustration, and some players are better at dealing with that than others. It's an ongoing thing, we just continue to deal with it. Hopefully each time becomes more magnified in his mind, the importance of what you say and how it's interpreted comes to the forefront, and it's a dwindling thing and it will disappear," he said.