Collins candid about past, next opportunity

Through his 10-year NFL career, Oakland Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins has seen the mountaintop and the bottom of the ocean. Now, Rich Gannon's injury becomes Collins' next opportunity for success.

The Oakland Raiders will, in a best-case scenario, be without Gannon for eight weeks after suffering a cracked vertebra in Sunday's 30-20 with over Tampa Bay. The Raiders signed Collins, whom the New York Giants released after trading for the rights to draft Eli Manning from the University of Mississippi.

When the Raiders signed the 31-year old Collins, it was generally assumed that they would release Gannon, 39, after sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury in a 17-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2003.

Oakland remained steadfast that Collins would be the backup and Gannon the start until further notice despite the popular, and much-discussed, notion that Collins is a better fit for first-year head coach Norv Turner's system that emphasizes the vertical passing game. Then came Sunday night against the Buccaneers, when Collins looked solid in completing 16-of-27 passes for 228 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Collins is now the man to lead the Raiders beginning with Sunday's game on the road against the Houston Texans.

"This is a business of proving yourself," Collins said Wednesday when talking to Bay Area reporters who cover the Raiders. "You've always got to prove yourself whether it be your teammates, the fans, the media or whatever. I've gotten passed that. I'm real excited about the opportunity. I hate the fact that rich had to get hurt for me to end up playing. I'm excited to get out there and see what I can do."

Collins entered the NFL in 1995 as a perceived "Golden Boy" when the Carolina Panthers drafted him with the fifth-overall pick in the draft from Penn State University. In fact, he was the first-draft choice in the history of the franchise. Collins led the Panthers to the NFC Championship Game in 1996. The Panthers were coached then by Dom Capers, now Houston's head coach.

Despite the auspicious start to his career, Collins' life quickly spiraled out of control. Collins talked openly about his trials and tribulations Wednesday before hitting the practice field.

At a celebrity golf tournament in Mississippi hosted by Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, a hungover Collins showed up wearing sandals (he failed to bring golf shoes), a T-shirt and smoking a cigar. By the time the tournament was over, Collins was inebriated again, leaving the course laying down in the back of a pickup truck and puffing on another cigar.

There was the time in Charlotte when Collins had to be dragged out of a bar by teammate Mike Fox, who feared that if he let go of Collins he might put himself in further danger. It was also in Charlotte, as a member of the visiting New Orleans Saints, who signed Collins after Carolina released him, that Collins was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

In addition, there was the much-publicized outing at training camp in Spartanburg, S.C., when a drunk Collins, in an effort to fit in with some black teammates, used a racial slur. It irritated many of his teammates, and prompted offensive lineman Norberto Davidds-Garrido to punch him in the eye. Collins, who said Wednesday that he has not had a drink in five years, added that incident led to his decision to stop drinking.

"That was so far from who I am as a person," Collins said. "I was trying to be a funny guy. I was trying to make a joke. I was drunk and it was really taken in a way I didn't want it taken. That's the thing I will deny to my dying day that I'm a racist."

It took the Panthers, and later the Saints, releasing him for Collins to be proactive about addressing his problems. Collins was also picked up for DUI in Charlotte and stripped of his driver's license that he began to see that something needed to be done.

"I've always said that those kind of things come from within," Collins said. "People can tell you until they're blue in the face about, ‘This is what you need to do. That's what you need to do.' but until you understand and realize it for yourself, I think that's the key to it all. If you don't learn, you're going to have problems. I was fortunate to be humble enough to say I've got a problem and I need to change."

Collins realized that alcohol controlled him and shortly thereafter his life began to get better. The Giants picked up Collins before the 1999 season, he split time at quarterback with Kent Graham. He also had to convince his new teammates that he wasn't a racist and wouldn't fall victim to alcohol again was to prove it over time.

Collins had a subpar first season with the Giants, throwing more interceptions than touchdown passes for the fourth time in five seasons. Collins, however, impressed the Giants enough that they released Graham and made Collins the lead man.

One year later, with prognosticators expecting little, Collins led the Giants to the Super Bowl, annihilating the Minnesota Vikings 41-0 in the NFC Championship Game. In that contest, Collins threw for more than 300 yards in the first half alone and for a championship-game record five touchdowns in a 41-0 rout of the Vikings.

One week later, however, Collins threw four interceptions in a 34-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. To be fair, however, the vicious Ravens defense made mincemeat of pretty much every offense they face.

"It was very important from the standpoint of, ‘The truth shall set you free,'" Collins said. "I kind of let it all out there the Monday beforehand. That for me was a big step in my maturation process. The other thing was the game. I threw four interceptions and had a terrible game. I think what I learned from that was that the sun is still going to come up. Even though it was terrible and it was a bad game and I hated the fact that it was the Super Bowl, Kerry Collins as a person is going to be OK. That gave me a lot of confidence."

Collins had a subpar 2003 season after performing pretty solidly in 2001 and 2002. Collins bears no grudge that the Giants deemed him expendable now that they having Manning. Nonetheless, it's hardly a surprise that someone with a troubled past becomes a Raider eventually, even though for Collins, his problems got resolved five years ago.

"That (quitting drinking) did more for me than anything I'll ever do in my life," Collins said. "Taking a hard look at myself, that was part of what went into that. That's had the biggest impact on my life. It's a matter of trying to be aware of my surroundings of what is going to give me the best chance to be successful with this. I've had a lot of help throughout the years. I needed to learn about myself."

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com


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