Jim Fassel knew from the moment Jeremy Shockey walked into training camp in Albany last summer that there would be broken china in his house.
"You don't know until he gets here and really gets going, but I guess that first day he reported in and I was finishing dinner, walking around with my cup of coffee, and I saw that fight break out, I knew that my man was there," Fassel said yesterday after the Giants' 10-7 overtime victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, which propelled the Giants (10-6) into the postseason as a wild-card entrant. "He's exactly what I wanted."
Shockey is Fassel's man, and in a few short months, the Giants have become Shockey's team, full of vim and vigor, tough, dangerous and wholly unpredictable, just the type of team that can catch fire in a National Football League postseason.
Shockey, the Giants' 6-foot-5 rookie tight end, gave the first glimpse of his aggression and competitiveness in a dining room brawl with linebacker Brandon Short in training camp, the opening salvo of a season that Shockey has made his own.
His regular season culminated yesterday with production to match the bluster and his vibrating blond mane: 10 catches, 98 yards and a touchdown, a 7-yard alley-oop grab over the Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins that tied the score at 7-7 midway through the fourth quarter.
Shockey, who called the Eagles' secondary overrated before ever playing against it earlier in the season, did not let Dawkins off the ground right away after the touchdown.
As they were lying in the end zone, Shockey leaned into Dawkins's chest and stared at him, shaking his helmet from side to side in the manner of a big brother playing keep away with his pipsqueak sibling.
He then got up and flung the football, a tight spiral, into an nfl.com sign on the western side of Giants Stadium. "I wasn't thinking," Shockey said. "I was excited and our offense was just waiting to break loose in this game."
Matt Bryant's 39-yard field goal in overtime sent the Giants to the postseason, but Shockey has been providing fuel for the engine all season.
Shockey's antics can be maddening — especially when they draw undue attention to himself or cause the Giants to lose yards (as they did on an unsportsmanlike conduct call in a 17-3 loss to the Eagles on Oct. 28) — but the Giants are living with Shockey's bravado and thriving off it.
"He brings us an attitude," said Short, who would know as well as anyone. "You see him out there on the field and he's a monster."
Shockey has also given the Giants something else: a go-to guy in the form of a dominating, pass-catching tight end, a priceless commodity in today's N.F.L.
If the postseason follows the form of the parity-filled regular season, a player like Shockey can make a difference in games where the squads are closely matched and upsets will be expected.
It is the kind of equation that makes the Giants more than just guests at the party. It makes them legitimate contenders.
"Our organization felt it was a real need position for us," receiver Amani Toomer said of the void at tight end, which prompted the Giants to draft Shockey out of the University of Miami last April. "And that's not to take anything away from the other tight ends on our team, but a player like that can change the game."
Quarterback Kerry Collins said, "Without him, we would probably be in big trouble right now."
Shockey is one of only a handful of young players on the Giants who have made an impact on a team that seemed headed for nowhere when it was 6-6.
Defensive linemen like Lance Legree and Frank Ferrara have solidified a line that lost Keith Hamilton to a torn Achilles' tendon against the Atlanta Falcons.
And Shockey has given a once-vanilla team some bite.
Michael Strahan, like most of the towel-waving crowd, could not keep his eyes off Shockey either.
"I said, `Man, they cannot play with Shockey,' " Strahan said. "He's a rare offensive player. If you put a safety on him, just throw the ball up and he makes things happen. We are lucky that we are playing with him and not against him. "
Shockey, highly quotable during the game but less so afterward, walked into the interview room and spent much of a quick five minutes talking about how Miami prepared him for days like yesterday.
"That school is like no other," Shockey said. "Anybody that comes out of there is going to be ready to play at the next level."
With a 24-yard grab in the second quarter, Shockey's 67th of the season, he broke Mark Bavaro's single-season team record for receptions by a tight end. On the Giants' opening play, he corralled a Collins pass with one hand and turned it into a 22-yard scamper.
What's next for Shockey? Nobody knows for sure. But the Giants are only seeing the beginning.
"It didn't take long to see," Collins said.