Sterling Shepard came into the NFL with a nickname that stuck throughout his first four seasons with the Giants. Nearly everyone called him “Young Shep,” a tag that fit not only because of his boyish looks but also since he was among the less-experienced receivers on the team.
As he enters Season 5 with the Giants, though, Shepard finds himself in a new place on the team’s hierarchy. He is, at age 27, the longest-tenured player on the roster.
“I might have to shake the ‘Young Shep,’” Shepard laughed during a virtual news conference on Friday. “I was thinking about that.”
It means a lot more than simply having to reconsider a nickname. It means that there are no more direct links to what most Giants fans would consider recent successes. As recently as last season, Giants players could look around the locker room and see Eli Manning or Zak DeOssie and feel a connection to the Super Bowls that were won after the 2007 and 2011 seasons. But Manning retired in January and DeOssie, whose success with the franchise could be taken back to the 1980s via his father, Steve, announced his retirement Friday.
It means that for the first time in decades, there are no players on this team — or in the league even — who have ever won a postseason game in a Giants uniform.
DeOssie’s retirement, therefore, represents the end of an era.
But perhaps also the beginning of a new one.
“It’s a fresh new start,” running back Saquon Barkley said.
One that will be spearheaded by Barkley himself. And Shepard. And Daniel Jones and Joe Judge.
Whether or not this new cast will be able to find the same success that the previous ensemble did remains to be seen. Barkley, for all of his accomplishments, has never even played on a team with a winning record in the NFL.
“I want that,” Barkley said of the modest goal of being above .500, “and if I’m hungry for that, which I am, I have to focus on today ... From what I have seen in these first couple of days is we are steps ahead, in my opinion. We are coming in, we’re locked in.”
The Giants did spend time this offseason learning about the history of the organization. It’s important, both Shepard and Barkley said, to understand the traditions and expectations that come with being a Giant.
“You have to know what the guys before you have done and how they played football, and to continue to play that way because that’s what this organization was built on and that’s what it’s used to,” Shepard said.
Now, though, for the first time in any of their careers, that history is no longer sitting across the locker room from them. It’s truly in the past. That can be daunting. The Giants know they have a lot to measure up to.
It might also be liberating.
The next chapter in Giants lore is about to be written with all new characters. With new nicknames, even. And it’s beginning at this very moment.