Collins handles first glare of spotlight

On The NFL

May 23, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

When the New York Giants gambled a $5 million signing bonus on troubled quarterback Kerry Collins earlier this year, it seemed like an odd fit for a player who wound up being tagged a drunk, a racist and a quitter last year.

A player carrying that much baggage could have problems dealing with the media spotlight in the nation's largest city.

Collins, though, had no problems being under the microscope at minicamp a week ago. He said all the right things, admitted alcohol had been too much a part of his life and said he figured it'd take time to get a rapport with his new teammates.

"I think the guys are still feeling me out. I'd be naive to think it would all happen overnight and we're going to become best buds," he said.

For their part, his teammates seemed to be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Running back Tiki Barber admitted he expected Collins to be something of a jerk, but said he hadn't been one in the Giants camp. "Until he proves me wrong, I'm going to keep believing in what I see," Barber said.

Collins also gave a candid interview to the New York Times in which he talked about his time in a rehab clinic and discussed his teen years when his life was more Todd Marinovich than "Father Knows Best." Marinovich, the former Raider, had to deal with a father who pushed him into sports.

So did Collins. His father was an assistant coach at his high school in Lebanon, Pa., when he got into an argument with the head coach after Collins, then 14, broke his ankle in two places running a keeper during an intense scrimmage.

Collins' father decided to move the family 40 miles to a different high school. When his wife objected, the family split up and Collins and his father moved in a one-bedroom apartment. His parents later divorced.

For Collins, the message was obvious. "It was worth it to break up the family to become a top-notch athlete. Kerry the quarterback mattered more than Kerry the person."

One of his high school teachers, Barb Heckman, said: "You could see he lacked a woman's influence in his life. There are some things only a mother can give."

Collins did become a top-notch athlete, leading Penn State to an unbeaten season, becoming a first-round draft choice and taking the Carolina Panthers to the NFC title game in his second season.

He then flamed out, leaving Carolina with the reputation of being a quitter after a fateful meeting with former coach Dom Capers last year. He then bombed in New Orleans.

When Collins was asked if breaking up his family was worth it, he paused and said, "No." He added: "But you have to get past all that and say that's the way it was. Where am I now?"

Where he is now is trying to put his life -- he's mending fences with his parents -- and his career together again.

His college coach, Joe Paterno, still backs him and suggests that maybe Collins and Capers, now the Jacksonville defensive coordinator, weren't a good fit.

"I'm not so sure he was happy in that area [Carolina]. There may have been some friction between [general manager] Bill Polian, who believed very strongly in him, and maybe some other people in the organization. Once Bill left, it seemed some of his problems started."

Now he has a coach, Jim Fassel, noted for developing quarterbacks. He's starting off as the backup to Kent Graham. This may be his last chance, but he seems to have taken a good first step.

Regardless of how it turns out, his life could be one of those TV movies of the week.

Signing games

The New Orleans Saints' early signing of Ricky Williams not only isn't expected to lead to a rash of other early signings. It may hinder them.

That's because the other teams with high draft picks are likely to try to get similar deals with no voidable clauses.

Mike Brown, the Cincinnati general manager, was quick to suggest that his top pick, Akili Smith, should sign that kind of contract.

"We have a plan in mind, and it's based on the player's performance, not just paying him for the mere fact he was drafted high," Brown said.

The agents like the kind of deal that Cleveland's Tim Couch got that pays him for being drafted high. Couch got a $12.25 million signing bonus and gets another $8.75 million in the fourth year if the Browns buy it back after it voids.

By contrast, Williams got an $8.84 million signing bonus and then the minimum salaries for eight years. To get big money, he has to rush for more than 1,600 yards a year. Only Terrell Davis and Jamal Anderson did that last year.

To get the maximum amount of $68.4 million in the deal, he'd have to virtually match Davis' first four years. Only Eric Dickerson has done that in NFL history. Williams could run for 1,500 yards a year for seven straight years, be one of the leading rushers of all time and yet in his eighth year he'd make a maximum of only $700,000 above the minimum -- $100,000 each for workout and weight clauses and a maximum of $500,000 in incentives.

Williams seems to think he'll have no trouble rushing for 1,600 yards a year in the NFL because of the big numbers he put up in college. Wait until he tries to do it. It'll be no surprise if he's trying to renegotiate in three or four years.

Meanwhile, don't look for any of the other top picks to take a similar deal.

Waiting for Barry

For Lions coach Bobby Ross, waiting for Barry Sanders is like waiting for Godot. All Ross knows is that Sanders' father says that Sanders is unhappy and may retire.

It seems unlikely that he'd walk away in his prime -- especially when he'd have to pay back $7.3 million of his signing bonus.

But Ross hasn't been able to get in touch with Sanders and said last week he'd like to hear from him by June 1.

Ross conceded, "Whether that's a good target date, I don't know."

Sanders has two agents, David Ware and Lamont Smith, and they say Sanders will eventually talk to the Lions. But they don't know when that will happen.

Pub Date: 5/23/99

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