Kerry Collins has been called a racist. He has been called a quitter. The Giants quarterback was arrested for DUI and has undergone counseling for alcoholism. Now he's being called a hero for learning to control his demons and setting a positive example as a public figure for other people who battle chemical addiction.
Collins bared his soul twice within 18 hours Monday and Tuesday, and the Super Bowl quarterback came away feeling even better about himself.
By the time he started speaking at 10a.m. Tuesday at media day, Collins already had received a great deal of positive feedback for what he said Monday afternoon. “I'm glad it happened, because it's very therapeutic for me,” he said. “When you tell the truth, it kind of frees you a little bit.”
Collins, 28, has resurrected his career since signing as a free agent with the Giants before the 1999 season. He enjoyed the best season of his six-year career, throwing for 3,610 yards and 22 touchdown passes. He had the best game of his career in the Giants' 41-0 NFC Championship Game victory over Minnesota, passing for 381 yards and five touchdowns.
But none of that would have been possible had he not repaired his life away from football.
It started in 1998 with his DUI arrest while a member of the Carolina Panthers. “That transcended the "OK, I've got personal problems and I've got problems with alcohol' into "Now I've got trouble with the law,'” he said.
Alcohol was the root of Collins' problems. He used a racial slur on the last night of '98 training camp with the Panthers, and although he says he intended it in a good-natured way, it was taken negatively.
“I was very intoxicated,” he said. “I was trying to be the funny guy.”
Alcohol and related personal problems were also the reason he walked off the Panthers' practice field the day after he had a confrontation with then-Carolina coach Dom Capers.
“I was at a time of my life where I was confused about a lot of things,” Collins said. He had started the first four games of 1998 for Carolina, throwing for eight touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards, but he was released by Capers and claimed off waivers by the Saints. His career bottomed out in New Orleans, and he was released again after the season.
The NFL ordered him to enter an alcohol treatment center. He had to change his mindset.
“Humility is not always a strong suit for professional athletes,” Collins said. “I had to get humble. I can't control alcohol.”
He had to get in touch with his past: He started drinking when he was 13. When he drank, he didn't stop. He lost control and couldn't remember what he did or said. He thought he would be wasting his youth if he didn't drink.
There also was too much emphasis on his football career. He moved to another school district to play high school ball at Wilson High in West Lawn, Pa., where he won a state championship as a senior before playing college ball at Penn State. Collins says the move sent him an incorrect message that football was the most important thing in his life.
Rehab taught him the opposite. Football was the least important thing and would be lost if he didn't face the truth about himself.
“My identity was so much of an NFL quarterback, but I had to take a long look at who I was and the kind of person I wanted to be,” Collins said.
This week is filled with happy endings for Collins. He's playing in his first Super Bowl. He's sober.
And he has reunited with his family.
“My whole family is coming to the Super Bowl,” he said. “This is the first time in I can't tell you how many years that they are all going to be in the same place at the same time.
“I'm very, very proud of sitting here at the Super Bowl as the quarterback of one of the teams, but I'm more proud of the things I do daily to make my life what it is today.”
Jan. 24, 2001