Coming Up Roses Third-string quarterback Jesse Palmer took a role on The Bachelor and endeared himself to a nation of reality TV fans. Can that charm win over his new coach?

May 16, 2004

He doesn't see her straining for another glimpse of him, tall and
dreamy in his khakis and bubblegum-pink sweater, a Rockwellian
soda-jerk fantasy sprung to life. Hoping he'll take notice, she
idles in his wake, which last Wednesday afternoon put her in the
middle of Manhattan's bustling Houston Street. But he never
breaks stride, just keeps going, and finally, so does she.

It's not that Jesse Palmer--a.k.a. the Bachelor, a.k.a. the
Giants' quarterback--doesn't appreciate the attention. It's just
that he has kept his father, Bill, waiting in front of a
Greenwich Village pizzeria. "Sorry I'm late, Dad," he says,
taking his father's face in his hands and gently kissing him
hello. It's such a sweet moment you can't help but think, This is
one of the good guys.

Then again, millions flung across our reality-TV-mad republic
have known that for weeks. Palmer has been busy paring a
telegenic gaggle of 25 women to his final One. Through it all, he
has proved flirty yet decent, curious yet respectful. And
wonderfully gaffe-prone--a sort of rakish Inspector Clouseau,
diligently on the make. Though he seems like a natural in the
role, Palmer hadn't even seen the show when his agent, Peter
Schaffer, called last September to gauge his interest. "I had a
bunch of missed calls from Peter on my cell," Palmer recalls. "I
thought I'd been traded. Or maybe I was starting." (Palmer has a
wonderful sense of humor.)

Instead, he learned that Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss was
searching for an NFL player to carry the show. Palmer was
intrigued. "I saw it as a great life experience," he says, "and
25 hot girls didn't hurt." With the Giants' tacit blessing,
Palmer was on board. Shooting wouldn't start until February, to
allow for a possible Giants Super Bowl appearance. (Fleiss also
has a wonderful sense of humor.)

Still, dating-game recklessness seemed an odd choice for a bright
guy who spent last off-season backpacking through Europe. But a
funny thing happened on the way to disaster: Palmer has become a
hit, with Nielsen--The Bachelor is ABC's highest-rated show--and
the bulk of his teammates. At least a dozen pack his Hoboken,
N.J., apartment each Wednesday to watch for the subtle hand
signals and locker-room lingo he used expressly for their
enjoyment. To Palmer's delight, they also savage his romantic
missteps, such as when he said he decided to search for a wife
because, at age 26, he's "tired of waking up every day next to a
stranger." When it's mentioned that he sometimes comes off as a
caddish klutz, Palmer laughs. "Ah, the magic of reality TV," he
says. "Things can be made to look different ways. But the editing
has been fair. I had a blast."

Amazingly, hanging out with 25 women--and canoodling with
seemingly half of them--proved tougher than Palmer expected. A
typical day began at noon and often dragged past midnight. Palmer
was not allowed to watch TV, read magazines or newspapers, or use
e-mail or cellphones. He passed the time working out and throwing
passes to production assistants.

As the show nears its May 19 final episode (for the record,
Palmer says he's in an exclusive relationship with the woman he
selected), its star nears the end of what he unfortunately calls
"this journey"--his only obvious sign of reality-TV fatigue.
"It's good to get back to football," he says. "I'm 100 percent
committed to the Giants." Less certain is how enthusiastic the
Giants remain about him. Palmer has thrown just 120 passes in
three years as a pro. New York has hired a new coach, the
exacting Tom Coughlin, and traded for its quarterback of the
future, Eli Manning. Palmer could be out of a job in a few weeks.

But why worry about that now? Palmer wants to play "until I'm
40," he says, before taking the time to sheepishly indulge
another doe-eyed passerby. If he's jobless next month it won't be
the worst thing in the world. He'll land on his feet. The good
ones always do. --Josh Elliott

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY STEVE BRODNER

"I'm the best receiver next to Randy Moss. They call me Snoop the
Boss Moss."
--SNOOP DOGG Q&A, PAGE 22

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)