A Shockey to system

The football sailed from Jeremy Shockey's precious hand and headed directly for the swank set sitting in the loge section, gaining steam, wiping out doubters, creating an arc that resembled a raging comet. Play it again, see how that ball streaks through the Jersey sky, watch Shockey's smirk curl into sweet satisfaction, and then say it over and over, until the words stick.

The New York Giants are in the playoffs.

Feels almost as good as winning Powerball, eh?

Big Blue fans, check out these winning numbers: Giants 10, Eagles 7. And only six more days until the postseason.

Who cares which Bay they will visit - San Francisco, Tampa, frigid Green Bay? A 6-6 start has metamorphosed into something wild and wonderful in the swamps and it bears a strong resemblance to the blond dude who can't stop yapping or gesticulating.

"It's over when we say it's over," Jim Fassel was saying yesterday, for the millionth time, only it no longer sounded like a cliche, but a mantra for a team that does not quit.

Matt Bryant, you can come out of hiding now. Tiki Barber, get your head out of your hands; that nervous breakdown will have to wait. The tears, though, the tears are a good look. Giants fans can tell you all about tears. Take a bow, Giants defense, and you too, Kerry Collins and Amani Toomer - tell us how it feels to be branded with such toughness. Shockey, well, you just go on being you - insane and over-the-top and impossible not to watch.

Jim Fassel, four more years. You trusted your gut, you stuck with Bryant when he could barely make a point-after attempt, when he missed a field goal and shanked a kickoff, and you wouldn't stop believing in Barber when 75,000 bitter souls would just as soon tie him up with those white hankies and toss him off 16W. There are words to describe Fassel, words that can only come from the indomitable Michael Strahan.

"I think he has a horseshoe up his ...," said Strahan, and he let the sentence bobble away, much like the football had all day long, much like the Giants' season nearly had gone.

Strahan laughed, and the world laughed with him. Well, maybe not David Akers. The Giants would say they were due, that it was their turn for comets to fall from the sky, for the Pro Bowl-bound Akers to miss a field goal, and the beleaguered cowpoke Bryant to make one.

Friday night, Bryant and Matt Allen started trading fantasies. Allen, the punter, to Bryant, the kicker: "You're going to win this game for us Saturday.

"Bryant to Allen: "Get ready to be on the front page of every paper in New York on Sunday.

"Then there was this nifty little exchange yesterday, between Fassel and Byrant: "Son, you owe me."

Bryant: Gulp.

It was overtime, the home team had driven to Philadelphia's 22-yard-line, Barber was still wearing the goat horns despite a performance that had been spectacular, if not for those three fumbles, and the cameras failed to catch Fassel reaching behind, to shine the horseshoe.

"A lot of times your own luck is created by desire, intensity, all of those things," said Fassel.

The Giants' recent spate of fortune spun on wins by Seattle and Minnesota and Cincinnati, of all teams, but now they had watched two touchdowns taken off the board because of holding calls (that Eagle defense sure has perfected the art of falling down), and suffered through all those Barber fumbles, and a Collins interception, and still were thoroughly dominating the Eagles.

So sure, Bryant nailed the field goal, from 39 yards out. "We're even now," Bryant would tell Fassel, after the unencumbered joy had finally fizzled.

Bryant had total recall of details - how the field felt like a pasture, where the ball hit his toe, who grabbed him first - unlike Shockey, who can barely remember to brush his hair. Looking like he was still ravaged by the flu, Shockey had 10 receptions for 98 yards and surpassed Mark Bavaro yesterday in most catches by a Giant in one season, none of which he could recall with much alacrity.

So he'll never be a statesman like Toomer. Surely Shockey began to salivate when the Eagles played him straight up midway through the fourth quarter, the Giants down by a touchdown. One moment safety Brian Dawkins was leaping in the end zone, thinking he had an interception, and before he could exhale Shockey was leaning into his face, the ball in his hands, saying very unkind things.

Then Shockey pulled Dawkins to his feet - oh, the indignity - whipped off his helmet, shook out his mane, heaved the ball into the stands, his first touchdown at Giants Stadium an indelible memory. The Giants sideline was one big conga line of dropped mouths and bug eyes.

'I said, 'Man, they cannot play with Shockey,'" said Strahan.

There are no horseshoes, no comets crashing through Jersey. Only a Giant team that has learned to get out of its own way, just when the odds told you it was well and truly over.
Dec 29,02