Sterling Shepard lined up in the slot, sprinted down the right seam and grabbed Eli Manning’s pass with those sure, gloved hands for the go-ahead 15-yard score, the second deciding touchdown in seven days for the Giants’ rookie receiver. And now the crowd was getting loud with appreciation.
But this wasn’t MetLife Stadium two games ago against Chicago. This was Madison Square Garden two nights later during the Knicks-Portland game.
The highlight was shown on the big screens over the court, accompanied by an NFL-related soundtrack. Then Shepard’s face flashed on the screens from his seat on Celebrity Row. The fans showered him in cheers.
“They kind of prepped me and told me they were going to put me on the screen,” Shepard said Friday. “But it was cool hearing all the cheers from the fans there. There are a whole bunch of Giants fans everywhere.”
Shepard is all of 22, but he has caught on fast. The second-round pick out of Oklahoma became a prime receiver right away, one of the Big Three with Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz, establishing himself mostly as a quality slot guy. Now he gets recognized occasionally when he’s out and about.
So how’s Shepard handling success and being a celebrity? Let’s just say there isn’t a swelled head inside that helmet. He has maintained a levelheaded approach.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a celebrity,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to think of it that way . . . I’m still the same guy. I just focus on whatever I have to do that day and focus on work, because without this, none of that would even be relevant.”
Coach Ben McAdoo has been impressed. “He’s handled success well,” he said. “He’s a young guy, comes out, he works hard at his craft. Plays a lot inside for us. We can move him around. He’s flexible that way. . . . He asks a lot of good questions. He’ll make mistakes. He’ll fix his mistakes.”
The Giants will bring a six-game winning streak and an 8-3 record into Sunday’s game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Shepard has contributed 44 receptions for 476 yards and five touchdowns, all second on the team to Beckham.
“I’ve worked my tail off to get to where I am right now, thanks to a whole bunch of people who helped me on the way,” Shepard said. “It’s been a long time coming, but it’s here. I’m just kind of taking it a day at a time.”
One perk of Celebrity Row status was getting to chat with Leslie Jones one seat over. Turns out the “Saturday Night Live” star is funny off camera, too.
“She had me dying the whole game,” Shepard said. “She was just cracking me up. She’s hilarious.”
Five days later, Shepard could only smile about winning. Manning didn’t target him at all last Sunday at Cleveland, his first game without a reception (although he did have a 22-yard run on an end-around).
“I apologized for not getting him a catch,” Manning said. “We need to get him the ball and get him catches.”
Shepard has been trying to learn from Manning, Beckham and Cruz. “I’ve always played the game to be one of the best at my position,” he said. “You’ve got to set your goals high.”
Notes & quotes: Left guard Justin Pugh (knee) will miss his fourth straight game. “It’s not there yet,” McAdoo said. “He has a little ways to go.” Brett Jones (calf) and Marshall Newhouse (knee) are questionable, but with Saturday’s practice ahead, McAdoo wouldn’t say that Adam Gettis will start for Pugh for the second straight game . . . Linebacker Mark Herzlich and safety Nat Berhe are out with concussions.