With the unexpected retirement of Kerry Collins, who almost certainly could have eked out another year's worth of paychecks somewhere in the NFL for the 2011 season, one can now throw open the doors to the Hall of Very Good for the underappreciated 16-year veteran quarterback.
In a tenure filled with hiccups and roller coaster rides, both on and off the field, Collins rung up some very impressive numbers in stints with five franchises. But his career, which included a pair of Pro Bowl invitations and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXV with the New York Giants, was more about ringing up big statistics than being a star.
And about being a stand-up guy after years wasted while being falling-down drunk.
Because his was a parable of personal redemption, and great, often painfully frank candor, Collins should be congratulated. But minus the demons that reduced his effectiveness, clouded his consciousness at times and blunted his ability, Collins' is a career that probably won't be memorialized. The fact he spent so many seasons at the outset of his career stoned will keep him from being bronzed.
QB Kerry Collins
Too bad, too, because at times, like when he spoke so openly about his alcoholism in the days preceding Super Bowl XXXV, Collins stood tall. Much of the news in the wake of his Thursday departure was about the bind in which his exit leaves the Tennessee Titans, who seem to need a veteran teacher for first-round draft choice Jake Locker. But in addition to tutoring Locker on such esoteric matters as reading secondary coverages, Collins could have mentored him on the off-field pressures of playing in the NFL as well.
And it might be in the latter role that Collins will be most missed.
In his 16 seasons, Collins, the fifth overall player selected in the 1995 draft, threw for 40,441 yards. He ranks ninth on the NFL's career list for completions, 11th all-time in passing yards. He has more passing yards than seven of the modern-day quarterbacks enshrined in Canton, has only 110 fewer passing yards than the great Joe Montana, has registered more touchdown passes than three of the quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame.
That's a pretty estimable career. But Collins, 38, has a much better chance of being elected to the Hall of Guys Who Turned Around Their Careers and Their Lives than he does the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In the big picture, perhaps the former of the two is a lot more important, and it certainly seems that way to Collins.
Only a few weeks ago, Collins appeared publicly satisfied with the specter of playing another season, perhaps as a tutor to Locker. But the lockout and his own unrest changed his tune, ironically, for a guy who plucks guitar and writes country songs for a hobby. The story of Collins' life and career might offer him the makings of a traditional country ditty, a real-life drama reduced to lyrics, but concluding on a high note, to cheers instead of tears.
There are a dozen quarterbacks who rank among the NFL's top 20 in career passing yards and aren't in the Hall of Fame. Three of them - Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady - are shoe-ins. Drew Brees is likely a lock as well. Drew Bledsoe and Donovan McNabb? Well, maybe. But players like Vinny Testaverde, David Krieg, Boomer Esiason, Jim Everett, Jim Hart and, yeah, Collins, probably have no shot.
That, of course, doesn't make them less than admirable. And given his personal struggles, and ability to overcome them and carve out a career as good as it was, perhaps Collins rates right at or near the top of the list for selection to the Hall of Very Good.
Especially given what he could have become, had Collins succumbed to some of his human frailties, and what he eventually turned himself into.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.