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SportsColumnistsTom Rock

New Orleans state of mind for Shockey, Vilma

New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey (88)

New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey (88) reacts after his 2-yard touchdown pass against the Indianapolis Colts during the second half of Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints won, 31-17. (Feb. 7, 2010) Credit: AP Photo

With all due respect to Frank Sinatra, making it in New York might not be all it's cracked up to be.

Just look at the Saints, who won the Super Bowl Sunday night with the help of three prominent New York castoffs: Sean Payton, Jeremy Shockey and Jonathan Vilma. There were a lot of familiar faces for local football fans to look at Sunday night, not all of them smiling as broadly when they were here.

They couldn't make it here, but they made it elsewhere.

Think Jim Fassel would have relieved Payton of his play-calling duties after going for it on fourth-and-goal late in the second quarter? Or maybe after spitting out the most audacious coaching call in Super Bowl history, the onside kick in the second half?

Then there was Vilma, who could never find his footing in the 3-4 defense that Eric Mangini brought to the Jets. How a linebacker athletic enough to sprint back to the goal line and break up what could have been a 33-yard touchdown pass to Austin Collie early in the fourth quarter could not find a home in the Jets' system is hard to imagine.

But the real rehabilitation was by Shockey, who caught the touchdown pass that gave the Saints the lead for good. While it is technically Shockey's second Super Bowl championship in three years, his role in the playoff run of the '07 Giants was as an onlooker, recovering from surgery on his broken leg. He was traded to the Saints before the Giants even took a preseason snap toward the defense of that title.

"It's gratifying to be in the game, much less catch a pass for a touchdown," Shockey said. "A lot of hard work has been put into this since I was in the seventh grade. This is the game you dream about playing in. Everything worked out pretty easily."

Shockey downplayed his contentious past with the Giants. "I don't want to talk about that," he said immediately after the game. "I want to talk about these good times right now. It's awesome."

Later, in a more formal setting, Shockey tried to set the record straight on his relationship with his former team.

"A lot of people made it out to be me being jealous of New York winning," he said. "But it was the complete opposite. I was very satisfied and happy for my teammates, who worked hard."

He said he spoke with Steve Spagnuolo, the defensive coordinator of the Giants' Super Bowl-winning team who is now the head coach of the Rams, during the week.

"I was really close to him with the Giants," Shockey said. "He gave me some good words of advice. I have great memories from everywhere I've been.

"Obviously, winning is very special," he added. "I have great memories of winning in high school, junior high, college, with the Giants and with the Saints. It's about as special as it gets."

Shockey caught three passes for 13 yards. Vilma, besides that pass defense against Collie that kept the Saints within a point at 17-16 and forced a 52-yard field goal attempt, had seven tackles, two for a loss. And Payton became the fourth former Giants assistant to win the Super Bowl as a head coach of another team, joining the rather lofty group of Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry and Bill Belichick (Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin were also Giants assistants, but they won their rings with the Giants).

That the three former New York stars all landed in New Orleans may have been coincidence. But the shared lessons of their time here - and their disposability here - helped run them to the glory of Sunday night's win.

It was Vilma, not Shockey, who said that the two players - who won a National Championship together at the University of Miami - each felt "slighted" by the way their tenures in New York ended.

But Vilma said that leaving the New York stage wasn't all a letdown.

"It didn't really bother me because I knew I was coming here (to New Orleans), I was wanted down here and I was coming to a situation that was good," he said.

He and the rest of the New York rejects didn't know how good until Sunday night.


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