Visanthe Shiancoe (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Visanthe Shiancoe had a career and personality transformation with the Vikings, but he chose the pursuit of a ring under the Patriots way.
A smile spread across my face yesterday evening when I saw that Visanthe Shiancoe had signed a contract to continue his career in the NFL. As one of the media throng that would descend dozens of times a year into the Vikings locker room, there were a few things that were certain as we were ushered in like cattle into a pen. In good times or bad, you always instinctively looked to Shiancoe’s locker. Like Jared Allen, you knew if you asked him a good question, you would get an answer that would be epic.
It wasn’t always that way. In his first season with the Vikings, I can remember being stopped in mid-sentence by nothing other than a snap-headed look – best described as a much bigger and equally angry Samuel L. Jackson throwing me the lamps. Perhaps beaten down by a combative New York media as a blocking tight end overshadowed by Jeremy Shockey, Shiancoe was looking for a fresh start, a new beginning. But he was hard to talk to because he was guarded and angry that his career had yet to blossom. That would change
The Visanthe Shiancoe that came to the Vikings was understandably pissed. He was a good receiver, but in the Giants offense he was little more than an offensive lineman with a number in the 80s who occasionally got the “tackle eligible”-style pass thrown his way. He was wide open. Why? Because nobody ever game-planned the Giants and used the phrase, “We have to stop Shiancoe if we’re going to win.” He wanted more. He wanted to prove he was a complete tight end that could be an offensive threat. He just never had the chance.
The transformation of Shiancoe was impressive and pronounced – both on the field and off. At first, he was sullen. I know this because, last fall, I asked him a question based on his change of demeanor with the media and used the word “sullen” in a self-styled description of my perception of him. Instead of giving me the Sam Jackson death stare, he raised one eyebrow like The Rock. He didn’t dispute my assessment. He just had never heard it explained that way and he didn’t deny it. He was sullen. But something about Minnesota brought it out of him … as did the NFL’s Very Candid Camera.
The Shiancoe of 2007 that arrived in Minnesota was a far cry from the Shank of 2009. If anything, perhaps it was an unintended moment that made the change in his demeanor. Following a Vikings game against the Detroit Lions, one of the network perks of carrying a game gave FOX access to the locker room for an emotional speech from owner Zygi Wilf that the rest of the media didn’t get to see. In the background, there was Shiancoe. He had a towel in hand, but it didn’t leave anything to the imagination. In the DVR age – much less websites that like to tell the public “Hey, look at this!” – Shiancoe was famous. Even today, if you Google search “Visanthe Shiancoe naked” the list of web sites (and their names) are unsettling at the very least.
It was Dec. 7. It wasn’t Dec. 7, 1941. It was Dec. 7, 2008. But, it was a day that would live in infamy.
Suddenly, Shiancoe was kind of big deal (insert bad joke here). It wasn’t just guys like me that were asking him questions, it was everyone. And, in that moment of ignominious fame, Shiancoe became a different person.
In the three seasons that followed, Shiancoe became must-see TV when he was interviewed. He starting using really big words – I called him on it a couple of times, accusing him of getting a “Word of the Day” daily calendar for Christmas. But, he was happy. He had found a home in Minnesota and was one of Brett Favre’s biggest in-house fans. He became a quote machine and that will be sorely missed – as well as his red zone production.
That changed last year. As the Vikings fell deeper and deeper into a lost 2011 season, Shiancoe withdrew from the open media sessions. His demeanor, along with many of his other teammates, took a downturn and we didn’t see him much holding court around his locker. He wasn’t sullen, but he was getting closer.
What makes Shiancoe’s story uplifting is the absurdity – much like the genesis of his fame in Minnesota. He reportedly turned down an offer of $1.2 million from the Seattle Seahawks – he wasn’t drinking Pete Carroll’s brand of Kool Aid. However, on Tuesday, he accepted an offer from Bill Behichick’s punch bowl – the same trough that has Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez dipping in pitchers and free agents Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells dipping in used Dixie Cups.
It seems like a strange choice. Belichick makes Brad Childress seem like Sacha Baron Cohen in comparison. He will be stifled … on orders. That’s a shame, but, if Shank gets a ring out of the deal, there won’t be too many who can fault him for it.
He will be missed by those of us who wanted to make Vikings fans laugh. For a brief period, Open Mike Night occurred at midday during the week of the Vikings’ season. He is gone, he was uncovered and he won’t be forgotten. Get your ring, Shank.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.