Giants' Collins drops back to a difficult past

Quarterback speaks out about drinking, `racist' tag

Super Bowl Xxxv

Ravens Vs. Giants

January 23, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - Super Bowl week for New York Giants quarterback Kerry Collins means more than preparing for the biggest game of his career.

It also means he has to open up about his sordid past.

So Collins met the challenge head-on yesterday in what turned into an emotional news conference where he discussed his problems with alcohol, accusations of being a racist and the difficulties he had growing up.

Collins said he had his first drink at age 13 and became a binge drinker while at Penn State and later with the Carolina Panthers. His drinking was part of the reason his relationship with then-Panthers coach Dom Capers deteriorated.

Collins' play went on a similar downward spiral, and Capers eventually released him. The New Orleans Saints picked him up for a rather disastrous stint, then chose not to re-sign him for the 1999 season. The Giants took a gamble and found a changed man, one good enough to lead his team to Super Bowl XXXV.

"I was described as a lost soul at one time," Collins said. "I definitely think that was the case.

"I used [alcohol] as a rebellious tool. I really had problems living in the public eye. It was almost like that adage of, `I'll show you, I'll hurt me.' "

Alcohol had much to do with why Collins made a racial slur to one of his Panthers teammates in his last season in Carolina.

"We were all out having drinks," Collins said. "I was very intoxicated. There was some celebrating going on back in the dorms because of the end of training camp. I used a term that was not meant to be used in a malicious way. It was more of in a joking manner. I was trying to be a funny guy. I was trying to say something obviously I knew I shouldn't be saying but that the guys wouldn't take it that way because they knew I shouldn't be saying it.

"In a strange sense, in my deluded, altered mind, I believed in some sort of way, it would bring forth some sense of camaraderie."... I regret it, and certainly wish it never would have happened."

Collins came to New York for the 1999 season a scarred man. His reputation so damaged, in fact, that he did not even try and win over his teammates.

"If I were to come in there and give some big production, shake hands and slap everybody on the back, say 'That didn't happen, or that wasn't the case or I'm not a racist,' I didn't see what words would do at that point," Collins said. "I knew it wasn't going to be a quick fix."

Collins won over his teammates so easily that no one questioned his past. "I've never once brought up any of that stuff," running back Tiki Barber said.

Giants coach Jim Fassel sensed things would turn out the way they have before he made the signing.

"After talking with him, I was convinced this young man was going to make a change in his life, not only personally, but as a professional quarterback," Fassel said. "He knew he was going to have to take more time with football. He was going to have to take it seriously."

Taking football seriously turned out to be the easy part.

In one respect, football is all Collins knows. Collins felt pressure to be a great football player since his father moved him to another district for the lone reason of playing football.

Looking back, Collins said he feels that may have had something to do with why his life went the way it did.

"It sent two messages to me," Collins said. "The first is that football is more important than anything. The second [is] if everything worked out in football, everything would be OK. I'm living proof that that is not the case. I know athletics is a big part of our society. I encourage parents to let their kids choose their paths. ...

"I'm thankful to my parents for making the sacrifices they made. But at the same time, I don't think the age of 14 is a time to start a career."

A career that has taken him from being unwanted to the verge of a possible Super Bowl ring.

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