When Sterling Shepard crumpled to the MetLife Stadium turf Week 3 against the Dallas Cowboys with what was feared, and turned out to be, a torn ACL the immediate thought was that we may have seen the last of Shepard as an NFL player.
After all, he had an injury-plagued 2021 season that ended with a torn Achilles tendon and an arduous, nine-month rehab to return from that. Before that, a variety of injuries had limited him to just 22 of a possible 32 games in the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
The initial thought was that a second straight devastating, season-ending leg injury might convince the 29-year-old to hang up his cleats.
Well, maybe not so fast.
Speaking with media in the Giants’ locker room on Wednesday, Shepard said “Dang right,” when asked if he had another comeback in him.
“I want to go out on my own terms. I don’t want something like this to make me go out,” Shepard said. “So, I’m going to fight to get my body back to where I can perform and get this thing good.”
Shepard, a 2016 second-round pick and the longest-tenured Giant, said there is “a grieving period” after a major injury, but that he quickly realized he wanted to continue playing.
“The next day it hit me. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m not going to let this get me down. I’m going to fight through it. I’ve done it once; I can do it again,’” Shepard said.
Shepard was on the sideline Sunday against the Chicago Bears. He will also make the trip with the Giants to London for Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers.
“Just because I’m going down doesn’t mean I need to have a cloud over my head and bring everybody else down,” Shepard said. “I think it’s big for me, being one of the veteran guys in this locker room, to help the guys in any way I can.”
Shepard has received an outpouring of support since the injury from teammates, coaches, members of the Giants organization and even former teammate Odell Beckham Jr., who flew in from the Bahamas to check in on Shepard at the Giants’ practice facility.
Shepard said the experience has “for sure” shown him what he means to people around the Giants.
“Not only that, but they mean a lot to me,” Shepard said. “They didn’t have to give me another shot to come back off that Achilles, and they did. And I can’t thank this staff and ownership enough for the opportunities that they’ve given me. And I feel like I owe so much to them. I want to give them my all; I don’t want to go out like this. So, like I said: I’m going to fight. I’m a fighter. So, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Shepard said he thought he may have actually suffered the knee injury two plays before falling to the turf, saying his knee “did something funny.”
Shepard did not blame the oft-criticized MetLife Stadium FieldTurf, though he did — as most players do — express a preference for grass playing surfaces.
“I’ve heard stuff about that [the MetLife turf]. I know they tested it a couple of years back and said it was fine,” Shepard said. “I mean, I love playing on grass. I know a lot of my teammates, we all love playing on grass. It’s just a little bit more forgiving than turf is. At times, your foot can get stuck in the turf. I think all around, it’s better on bodies to play on grass. But I’m not in the decision room or making that decision.”
Shepard is eighth on the Giants’ all-time receptions list with 362, five short of tying Frank Gifford for seventh place. He obviously would like to be back. He does not have a contract for 2023, though, and just because GM Joe Schoen brought him back for 2022 does not guarantee he will do so again for 2023.
“I’ll let that take care of itself. All I can do is focus on every day that I have and each day coming up,” said Shepard, who has yet to set a date for his upcoming knee surgery. “So, that’s what I’m going to focus on – just putting one foot in front of the other and focusing on the small wins right now. So, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.”