Second life

This feature originally appeared in the February 22, 2008 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

The storm is coming.

Just days before Hurricane Gustav hits New Orleans, National Guard trucks roar down Canal Street as workers board up store windows. Meanwhile, most of the Ritz-Carlton valet staff is huddled around Jeremy Shockey's white Escalade, trying to fix a flat before the tight end's new team evacuates to Indianapolis. Shockey has been living out of his ride since late July, when the Giants traded the four-time Pro Bowler to the Saints for two draft picks. As the rear hatch is opened, some footballs, dress shoes and ties tumble to the pavement. So does a blue-and-gray Giants hat, the one Shockey wore while hobbling on the sideline last winter with a broken fibula as New York made its way to the Super Bowl -- without him.

A bellhop retrieves Shockey's lid from the ground and offers it to him. "You want it?" Shockey asks. "Go ahead, take it. I don't need it anymore."

No, he doesn't. Earlier that day, Shockey sat in the hotel's sun-drenched lounge over a lunch of chicken gumbo and Coors Light. He ate with his left foot propped on an armchair, exposing the raised purple scars above his left ankle. Last December, Shockey was run-blocking during a loss to the Redskins when Giants wideout Amani Toomer rolled up on the back of his leg, snapping the bone. Maybe it was the memory of that hit or the arrival of Hurricane Gustav or drama fatigue after an ugly divorce from the Giants, but Shockey's mood was pure Big Easy: relaxed, conciliatory, peaceful. The man who kept the New York tabloids in OT had a few things he wanted to get off his chest, but mostly he offered a thoughtful and heartfelt take on what it's like to miss the biggest game of your career and how it feels to stand at the crossroads of a career.

Conciliatory? Thoughtful? Heartfelt?

Hey, this is Jeremy Shockey we're talking about. The man never fails to surprise.