Kerry Collins sat along celebrity row last night at the Garden, looking a bit out of place sandwiched between Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates and rap star Jay Z. If not for a few members of the media, who came over to offer a New York "can I get a quote" welcome, Collins probably would have gone unnoticed as he watched the Knicks' 82-74 win over the Nets.
If his career with the Giants is as unassuming, then he will have proven himself to be the changed man he insists he is and in turn make the Giants look smart for signing him to a $16.9 million contract that reads like a desperate move.
"All I'm asking for is a chance from the fans, from the players on the team, from whoever," Collins said during halftime as the Knicks City Dancers performed. "I'm going to bust my butt to prove everybody wrong about all the things they've heard about me and all the things that have been said and written. I've committed myself to that. I'm going to forget about all the other stuff and concentrate on getting back to where I belong."
All the "other stuff" has people wondering why the Giants would invest so much in Collins, who checkered past includes problems with alcohol and racial sensitivity. Collins, originally drafted by Carolina, saw his career and reputation tumble after leading the Panthers to the NFC Championship three seasons ago. He was released by the Panthers midway through last season after losing the respect of many of his teammates for a reported racial slur of a teammate. He was then signed by the Saints, who opted not to re-sign him after the season.
While there were at least two other teams interested in signing Collins, the Giants were by far the most aggressive and locked him up with a $5 million signing bonus. He will open the season as the backup to Kent Graham, but that could change as soon as Collins learns the Giants' offensive system.
"I'm excited about it," said Collins, who arrived in town this weekend and will attend the off-season condition program which begins Monday. "It's a great opportunity to play on a very good football team. I'm looking forward to getting going."
If first impressions are any kind of barometer, Collins appears sincere in his effort to rebuild his reputation. "I really committed myself this offseason to take a good, hard look at myself," he said. "I've taken a good hard, honest look. I don't want it to be the way it is. I don't want the perception of me to be what it is right now. I've committed myself to changing that and turning it around.
"I take responsibility for things that I've done, for the most part," he continued, "and I want to turn it around. That's what I would like the people of New York to know. My attitude is completely different. Football is my main priority. I'm looking forward to getting into this situation and helping this team out any way I can."
Jim Fassel said on the radio yesterday that the Giants decided to pursue Collins after getting the OK from team shrink Dr. Joel Goldberg, who offers counseling to all the Giants in need of structure. "I'm going to use him as a resource," Collins said. "Joel and I get along well. I think he's a guy I can trust and look to for guidance in a lot of things and I'm definitely going to use him as a resource."
Looking back on his past, Collins says many of his mistake were the result of immaturity and not properly handling the fame and money that came with being a professional athlete. "I think I had a lot to learn about being a professional," Collins said. "After four years, it's time for all that stuff to be non-factors. It's time to get back to being a good quarterback. A lot happened fast and quick for me and obviously, I didn't handle it as well as I could have. But I think I've learned a lot from the past two, three, four years, and I've taken a long, hard look at it and I'm willing to change a lot of the way I've approached things."
Collins still believes he can be a top quarterback in the NFL, that his skills haven't been diminished by his foolishness off the field. For now, he'll accept being Graham's backup. He's gotten a fresh start and new contract.
"Jim [Fassel] and I have talked and he said Kent's going to be the starter," Collins said. "He said, 'We're going to bring you along at a pace where you feel comfortable learning the offense and learning what's going on around here.' Jim thought my addition would help the football team and whatever role I'm in, I'm going to give 100 percent."
Collins said he never had a real opportunity to prove his worth in New Orleans. "It's tough learning the offense when you're [brought] in the middle of the season," he said. "Not having a training camp and being briefly exposed to the offense showed in the way I played. I was inconsistent. I played well some games and didn't play well in others. To be able to sit down with an offense and have the training camp experience under my belt, I think will show a lot more about what I can do."