Collins Bares Soul in a Discussion of Troubled Past

Kerry Collins didn't start by introducing himself. Maybe he should have. He told a tale of alcoholism and the devastating effects it can have on a life - his life.

He didn't stop there.

In his first news conference of Super Bowl week, the New York Giants quarterback gave a detailed accounting of his troubled past.

For 35 minutes, Collins answered question after question about alcohol dependency; being labeled a racist and a quitter; the dark moments of rehabilitation; and eventually turning his career around, leading the Giants to a Super Bowl meeting with the Baltimore Ravens.

In an era when athletes do their best to shield their private lives, Collins opened himself up in a candid, informative and impressive manner.

"It's hard for me to dredge up all those memories," he said, "but the stage being what it is and the situation being what it is, hopefully, it can have a positive affect on something."

When a moderator asked him if he wanted to stop after the allotted 30 minutes, Collins said no and answered about five more questions.

No subject was taboo. His steady, strong voice never wavered during answers. His eyes never rolled when either a topic or issue arose for the 100th time.

He answered it like it was the first time.

"Well, I'm human and I too have frailties and weaknesses, and we all do," Collins said. "Hopefully, people can see me as a role model in the sense people have problems, and alcohol dependency is part of life. It's part of everyday life.

"Hopefully, they can look at me as someone who realized he had a problem and realized he needed to do something about it."

Collins, who has been very frank about his problems since signing with the Giants two years ago, gave new insights into his alcohol dependency and for the first time publicly discussed the racial incident that led to his falling into disfavor with his Carolina Panthers teammates.

Collins, 28, said he didn't drink every day or every other day, but "when I did, I never stopped."

The racial incident followed a binge that came at the end of the Panthers' training camp in 1998.

"We all went out and had drinks and I was very intoxicated," Collins said. "There was celebrations going on back in the dorm and I used a word that was not meant to be used."

Collins did not disclose the word he used, but insisted he was trying to use it in a joking manner to get a few laughs.

"I used a term that was not meant to be used in a malicious way," he said. "In my polluted, altered mind, I believed that, in some sort of way, it would bring forth some sense of camaraderie. I certainly didn't mean for it to be taken the way it was."

Collins said the incident left him with an unfair label, because he has had black friends his entire life.

Collins said his darkest hour came when he went into rehabilitation after a driving-under-the-influence conviction.

"That was a time I realized it was at the point where it was pretty bad for me, the realization of having to go to a controlled structured environment to seek help was certainly very shocking to me. That's something I will never forget."

It also taught him to be humble.

"That humility comes with realizing I have a problem," Collins said. "I can't control alcohol. Unless I realized that and unless I've applied that in my daily life, alcohol will eventually kill me or I will end up in jail."

Collins said he started drinking because he hated being in the spotlight.

"I had trouble with public attention, living in the public eye," said Collins, who also is handling that situation better now, too. "It was like, `I'll show you, I'll hurt me. "

While he is thrilled being in the Super Bowl, Collins is prouder of his success off the field.

"I had a hard time separating between Kerry Collins the quarterback and Kerry Collins the person," he said. "That distinction wasn't clear until I realized I needed to take care of myself first before I could do anything on the football field or in my career."

In turning his life around, Collins also turned around his career, setting personal bests for yards passing (3,610) and touchdowns (22).

"I didn't want to look back in 20 or 30 years and see I wasted a talent that is a unique talent," Collins said. "That has been one of the driving forces in the whole process."

So is being honest.

"Do I like to talk about it every day? No!"

Maybe he won't have to after Monday. January 23, 2001