To Collins, Super Bowl would be chance to erase worst game

Giants QB was goat in Ravens' big victory

January 05, 2003|By THE NEW YORK TIMES

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - If hurt has to look like something, it may look the way Kerry Collins did after Super Bowl XXXV. Ernie Accorsi, the New York Giants' general manager, approaches Collins in the locker room and sees his face. What do you say to a quarterback who throws four interceptions in the biggest game of his life?

Accorsi pats Collins on the back and beckons Collins' agent into the room, circumventing rules, figuring Collins needs someone to talk to. Wellington Mara, the Giants' co-owner, walks over to Collins to console him. "We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you," Mara says.

Eventually, however, Collins is alone with the hurt, which gnaws at him. But then the hurt is shoved aside, and he begins to long for a second chance in the Super Bowl.

"It would mean a lot to me," Collins said Thursday, walking through the runway outside the Giants' locker room. "When you go in the first time and things don't go so well, you say, `I want to get back; I'll get it the next time.' I would know what it's all about, what all the hype and the hoopla is all about. I knew it was there, but it's not something you can truly understand until you go through it."

The Giants most likely will need three road victories in the next three weeks to reach Super Bowl XXXVII. They would have to beat San Francisco today and then win in Philadelphia or Tampa Bay, perhaps in Green Bay. It would be a monumental task, with the promise of extraordinary reward for the team - and, in particular, for Collins, who bore the brunt of the one-sided Super Bowl loss to the Ravens two years ago.

"He had a bad day, admittedly," said running back Tiki Barber. "I would love to see him get a chance to redeem himself. He's been through a lot in his life, and he's a champion in that regard, but I would love to see him be a champion on the football field, as well."

Giants coach Jim Fassel said, "I think he'd like to go back and show the world what kind of player he is."

The Giants' offense was overrun by the speed of the Ravens' defense in Super Bowl XXXV. Accorsi said he still can remember Barber approaching a gaping hole early in the game, yards of open space ahead of him - only to be swiftly cut down for a loss by linebacker Ray Lewis. Collins was forced to shoulder the load of the offense, and his game collapsed.

Collins completed 15 of 39 passes against the Ravens, accumulating only 114 yards. "That was probably the worst I've ever played in a game," he said.

It also ran contrary to his history, Accorsi said. Collins had thrived in big games. This is what Penn State coach Joe Paterno told Accorsi before the Giants signed Collins in 1999 and what Accorsi knew of Collins from Collins' days as a high school star in Pennsylvania.

This is what Collins delivered in the NFC championship game in 2001, throwing five touchdown passes against the Minnesota Vikings. It was as much a part of his reputation as his arm strength. Big arm, plays big in big games. That was before Super Bowl XXXV.

"But I'll say this - in some ways, it was a blessing in disguise for me," Collins said. "It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I used to be affected a lot more by wins and losses. When you throw four picks in the Super Bowl, and the sun still comes up in the morning, you see that and it liberates you in a way.

"You just look back on it and say: `You know what? I didn't die. I'm still here, and hopefully I'll get back.' "

Collins has played exceptionally this season. He led the NFC in passing yards, and in the Giants' past five games he has completed 100 of 158 attempts and thrown nine touchdown passes and just one interception. He had a quarterback rating of 105.7 in December and worked at ease in the Giants' refined offense, making decisions and releasing the ball quickly, avoiding killing mistakes.

He has grown into a team leader, too.

After the Giants handily beat the Indianapolis Colts on the road Dec. 22, Fassel announced that the players had the next day off but were welcome to come to Giants Stadium to watch videotape on their own.

One voice responded loudly, clearly and intensely: "We'll all be in." It was Collins.

"I admire how he approaches things, how he handles things, how he is even-keeled through adversity and successes," said Jason Garrett, the Giants' third-string quarterback, "So getting an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl, and play in these high-profile games again, it's great for him."

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