Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey accepted his award yesterday flanked by Deion Sanders and commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Shockey surprised
by NFL rookie award

The Giants tight end is headed
to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl

By Cindy Luis

SAN DIEGO >> Only one rookie was selected to next week's Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium: New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey.

Still, it came as a surprise to him that he was chosen the first Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year. Shockey beat out four other players in what was considered by the selection panel as some of the best young talent the league has seen in years.

"I don't know what to say," said Shockey after receiving the award yesterday during pre-Super Bowl XXXVII festivities.

The Miami alumnus let his statistics speak loudly. Shockey led all NFL tight ends with 74 receptions and 894 receiving yards, breaking the New York Giants records in those categories for a player at his position.

Shockey also finished second all-time among rookie tight ends in receptions (Keith Jackson, 81 in 1988) and receiving yards (Mike Ditka, 1,076 in 1961).

More than 350,000 fans voted on-line for five candidates on from Jan. 1 to 20 to determine which rookie would win the award. Shockey beat out Green Bay strong safety Marques Anderson, Houston quarterback David Carr, Cleveland running back William Green and Denver running back Clinton Portis.

Shockey also received an autographed lithograph of himself done by artist Malcolm Farley. Farley also designed Pepsi's six commemorative Super Bowl cans for this year, which went on sale this week.

This season there were 657 rookies in camp with 361 making the cut for the first week of play.

What a show: Legendary cornerback Deion Sanders hosted the awards ceremony.

"You got the best match-up of teams Sunday," said Sanders. "Basketball is cool. Baseball is boring. Football ... there is no other stage like this in sports."

Sanders had a favorite among the five rookie finalists. Anderson's middle name is Deion.

Hanging in: Waimanalo's Joe Wong was out of football a year ago. The 1994 Kailua High graduate is now here at the Super Bowl as part of the Oakland Raiders' practice squad.

"All you need is one break to make it," said the offensive lineman. "Oakland is one of the few teams that takes the practice squad to away games. It's been good to be with them. This is a great opportunity."

Wong played two seasons for Hawaii before finishing his career at BYU.

Coming home: Tampa Bay safety John Lynch knows Qualcomm Stadium well. As well as the rivalry between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders.

Lynch, who played at nearby Torrey Pines High, rooted against the Raiders while growing up a Chargers fan.

"It's great to play at home," said the former Stanford two-sport letterman (football and baseball). "I've been playing tour guide for my teammates.

"When Coach (Jon) Gruden took over, he told us from Day 1 that this was a championship team. We're 60 minutes away from that championship."

Mr. Smith goes big-time: Tampa Bay rookie linebacker Justin Smith admitted to being overwhelmed by all the media attention this week. The all-Big Ten player out of Indiana was in awe of the some 2,000 media doing interviews during Tuesday's Picture Day at Qualcomm; the number was a more manageable 400 during yesterday's interviews at the teams' hotels.

"I'm still getting used to being in the league and now I'm in the Super Bowl," said Smith. "I've never even been to California before this week."

By the numbers: Sunday's Super Bowl pits the top-ranked offense (Oakland) against the top-ranked defense (Tampa Bay). According to game historians, the team with the edge in defense during the regular season has won 24 of the 36 Super Bowls. ... For the first time the Super Bowl's number -- 37 -- matches that of a participating team's location. Oakland, home of the AFC champion Raiders, is situated just north of the 37th parallel.

Wrong plate, wrong time: Spotted parked outside of the Torrey Pines Hilton yesterday was a car with the license plate that read "BOLT FN," a reference to the San Diego Chargers, also know as the Bolts.

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