Visanthe Shiancoe up close and personal

Vikings tight end is ready for the Saints

SHIANCOE LIES FLAT ON HIS BACK on a fold-out massage table in the tan-walled living room of his Eden Prairie home. His lower body is covered by a blue plaid blanket, as a woman in a green t-shirt and denim capris digs her fingers into the taut tissue of the back of his neck. Above the table, a wide HD television screen blares Family Feud.

"Name something that comes with the dry cleaner," the host says.

"Hanger!" Shiancoe yells out.

Shiancoe hones his football reflexes playing video games
Tony Nelson
Shiancoe hones his football reflexes playing video games
Shiancoe in a bucolic setting behind his Eden Prairie home
Tony Nelson
Shiancoe in a bucolic setting behind his Eden Prairie home

"Name something associated with cowboys."

"Rope!" Shiancoe says.

"Name a food you can spread."

"Butter!" he hollers, raising his arm in an over-the-head fist pump. "Peanut butter!"

The top answer is cheese.

"No," Shiancoe groans. "Not cheese."

The massage isn't much fun—it hurts like hell, actually—but Shiancoe does what he can to enjoy himself.

Outside of football, life is one big relaxation fest. He goes out to eat. He shops.

Most days after practice, Shiancoe feels like a nap. But he rarely takes one because he's got too much to do. Facebook. Tweeting photos of what he ate.

For instance, on May 10, Shiancoe Tweeted a photo of juicy-looking steak and some really large asparagus. "Best steak ever ... I might order another," he told his 22,682 followers.

He's also a fan of video games. He likes Call of Duty and Madden NFL 11, but his favorite is Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. He uses seven or eight different characters. "I like to be well-rounded," he says. His screen names include "The Shank You" and "The Shankopotamus."

He says gaming helps with football. "Hand-eye coordination. It's really reactions. You have to know all sorts of combinations. Timing."

In Minnesota, Shiancoe—like all Vikings players who aren't from here—is something of a permanent visitor. He's in Minnesota about eight months of the year, but his real life is back in Maryland, where he grew up. That's where his girl lives (yes, ladies, he's taken—by a nurse and former Army captain), as well as his brother, mom, and best friends.

Whenever he can, Shiancoe flies home. He's gone February and March, and for a good chunk of June and July before training camp.

Even back in the gifted and talented program at Montgomery Blair High School, an academically focused magnet school in Silver Springs, Maryland, Shiancoe had a special knack for relaxing. He talked through class. He didn't do his homework on time.

"We had to stay on top of him, coming up," says Bryan Nance, his JV coach. "He had a little laziness to him at first. But once that weight room took over, it kind of started pushing that laziness out."

By his senior year, colleges started taking notice, and Shiancoe got a partial scholarship to play at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

"He probably was the best tight end in the area, but we didn't have a winning program, so he didn't get all the accolades," says James Short, Shiancoe's high school varsity coach. "I told the coaches at Morgan, 'You getting a steal.'"

Morgan hadn't had a winning season in 24 years, and the coaches didn't even play Shiancoe every game. Then Coach Donald Hill-Eley was hired to turn the football program around.

Coach Hill sat Shiancoe down during the tight end's junior year.

"Son, if you listen to me, I'll make you all-conference," the coach said.

"You think I can make it?" Shiancoe asked.

"Son, you've got more talent than I've ever seen in this position. If you do what I say, I'm going to have you playing on Sundays."

After that conversation, something inside Shiancoe switched into overdrive. Senior year he made Sheridan Broadcast Black College All-American and All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference first-team honors from the NFL Draft Report.

In 2003, the New York Giants drafted Shiancoe in the third round, the 91st pick overall.

But the opportunity proved to be more preparation than playtime. For four years, Shiancoe was stuck in the shadow of the Giants' standout starting tight end, Jeremy Shockey. Shiancoe hardly touched the ball.

Yet the Minnesota Vikings saw his potential. In 2007, Shiancoe nabbed a five-year, $18.2 million contract with the team.

His rookie season did not impress, but his second year he got better, and last season was his best yet.

As his stats improved, Shiancoe's gregarious nature began to come out at work. Specifically, he likes to mock safety Madieu Williams, whom he knows from back in Maryland.

"Oh Lord have mercy," Williams says. "Like, he'll say something along the lines of, 'Hey, Mad-OOO, Mad-YOU. How you doing?'"

Williams and Shiancoe are close—but Williams has set boundaries.

"If Shank and I are going out or going somewhere, I have to meet him out, because I would never wait on him to pick me up," Williams says. "Because you never know when he's going to show up, you know? He's on Shiancoe time."

Family Feud has ended, and daytime television has moved onto Judge Judy. Shiancoe is still on the massage table, gritting his teeth as the masseuse works his muscles. His big toe curls in pain as she kneads his flesh.

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