JACKSON, Miss. -- When it comes to the flamboyant, outspoken Jeremy Shockey, don't mistake a fresh start for a new outlook on life.
When asked if he'd ever been to Bourbon Street or had been warned to stay away from it now that he's playing for New Orleans, the Saints' new tight end grinned as a memory ignited a playful gleam in his eye.
"I did play in the Sugar Bowl when I was in college and it wasn't very good for the Gators, on the field and off -- and that was on Bourbon Street," Shockey recalled.
Shockey didn't go into detail about his purported French Quarter forays, but his play in the Sugar Bowl is well documented. His touchdown catch helped Miami cap their 2000-01 season with a 37-20 triumph over Florida.
Traded on Monday by the New York Giants, Shockey wore his new black-and-gold football gear for the first time Thursday as the Saints held their opening practice of training camp. He was clean-shaven and his hair military short.
Gone for now are the long blond strands that sometimes gave the hulking, tattooed football star the look of a barbarian as he battered would-be tacklers or celebrated big plays with a primordial roar. But Shockey said the broken left leg that sidelined him late last season will not alter the way he plays, while his move to a new team won't change the way he is.
"What you see is what you get. I wear my emotion on my sleeve," Shockey said. "I'm a true person. I'm not going to be fake or fabricated to anybody."
Shockey may seem like an odd match for the Saints, whose coach, Sean Payton, subscribes to the philosophy that the best teams, in addition to talent, have good locker room chemistry created by players with "character" and a team-first mentality. Payton generally avoids bringing in or keeping players who show a tendency to draw attention to themselves, as Shockey was periodically known to do in New York.
In addition to spectacular play that earned him four Pro Bowl selections, Shockey is also known for once casually throwing a cup of ice over his shoulder and into the stands in San Francisco. Or staying in Florida to train in the offseason rather than attend the Giants' voluntary workouts. Or saying Tom Coughlin was outcoached after a loss. Or sometimes throwing his hands up in disgust when Eli Manning failed to throw him the ball.
Shockey's broken leg in December forced him to watch from afar while the Giants surged to a Super Bowl victory. At the opening of Giants training camp in Albany, N.Y., on Wednesday, Coughlin said a "team-over-self" mentality is what lifted the Giants to their championship. The implication was that Shockey, as talented as he may be, was sent packing because he refused to suppress his dissatisfaction with his role in New York.
Payton, however, appears confident that he knows how to help Shockey thrive. He certainly has history to back him up.
Payton was the Giants' offense coordinator in 2002, when Shockey was named rookie of the year after catching 74 passes for 894 yards, both still season highs six years later.
"In the time I spent with him in New York, he was always a guy that worked extremely hard and this game is real important to him," Payton said. "He's been a part of a lot of winning teams and that's what he brings to the table. He has a passion for the game and those are all things that when you start matching them with the production and what he can do on the field, you look at as an asset."
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who played with Shockey for two seasons at Miami and has been newly reunited with him in New Orleans, said his old friend is misunderstood.
"He's obviously not shy and a lot of people can take what he says the wrong way, but us as players, as teammates, as friends, it's great," Vilma said. "It's great that you have a guy that's honest like that. He's up front and he's forward about everything and I can really relate to him."
So what went wrong in New York?
Shockey said he isn't sure himself, but somehow, "it just didn't feel right."
He was relieved that the Giants dealt him before training camp, saying he knew it would be "a circus" if he was forced to report to Albany.
"The last thing I wanted to do was go back to the Giants," Shockey said. "All the rumors that they would have been better off without me -- that's the last thing I wanted to do was be a distraction."
Brees said he was in the middle of a workout when he received text messages from friends about the Shockey trade and was so excited he called Payton immediately to be sure it was true.
Brees said he was "not at all" worried about Shockey's past lack of discretion in communicating his unhappiness to quarterbacks.
"All competitive guys play with that passion and fire," Brees said. "All I know is what I've seen on film and that's a guy that plays hard and you can tell he cares about the game. Certainly, you hear this and you hear that, but I'm going to make my own judgment."
If Shockey can get in the end zone in the Louisiana Superdome, as he did in the Sugar Bowl nearly nine years ago, Brees and the rest of the Saints could become quite fond of him.