Kerry's climb: QB sheds his tag as 'lost soul'

Kerry Collins crafted a gem Monday night every bit as impressive as his five-touchdown passing game against Minnesota in the NFC title game. He did it before a group of lot tougher than the Viking defense -- the members of the Super Bowl media.

Collins stood before reporters and said he was proud to be the quarterback of one of the two Super Bowl teams. He quickly added, however, he was even more proud of what he does every day as Kerry Collins, the person. And he proceeded to go back through his dark days when he was branded an alcoholic, a racist, and a quitter.

Kurt Warner had to spend a week last year talking about how he stocked shelves in a grocery. It grew tiring on the Rams quarterback, but his rags-to-riches story is not even close to the riches-to-rags-to-riches tale the Giants quarterback knows will intrigue reporters right up until Sunday's kickoff for Super Bowl XXXV.

The Giants hoped a Monday night no-holds-barred session would satisfy the needs of most journalists seeking the Collins story. And no one in attendance was disappointed as the quarterback took on all questions head-on, without any flinches. It's stuff he's gone over before, but never in as much depth for such a length of time and in front of so many people.

"Alcohol was a big part of the problems I had in Charlotte," said the former Carolina Panther quarterback. "Alcohol caused me to act in an erratic way. Along with that, there were some personal issues I needed to address. In those two years, the confusion, the angst, the anger I was experiencing at the time came to the fore. Alcohol fueled it, and I was described as a lost soul at one time. And I definitely think that was the case.

"I didn't drink every day, or every other day. But when I did drink, I didn't stop. I lost control, that was the crux of my dependency. I thought at the time if I didn't drink, I would miss out on my youth. As it wound up, I was missing out on my life."

The Collins/alcohol story and the way he has curbed his dependency was just one facet of the quarterback's compilation of past problems. He also addressed the racist tag applied to him in Carolina after he uttered a derogatory comment about teammate Muhsin Muhammad at a party.

"It was the last night of training camp. We were all out having drinks," he said of the incident in the late summer of 1997. "And I was very intoxicated. I used a term that was not meant to be used in a malicious way. It was more in a joking manner. I was trying to be a funny guy. I said something I knew I obviously shouldn't be saying, but I didn't think the guys would take it that way because they know I couldn't be saying that.

"In a strange sense, in my polluted mind, I believed that maybe in some sort of way it would bring about some sort of camaraderie."

It didn't. The next day Collins found out from teammates and coach Dom Capers that his comment was not appreciated. "I've always been a person who has had all kinds of friends, black friends, and friends of different nationalities," he added. "I believe in equality, and that goes back a long, long way. That incident unfortunately gave me a tag that I don't think I'm all about."

And then there was the time in the 1998 season when he walked into Capers' office and said he no longer felt himself fit to quarterback the Panthers. That's when he was branded a quitter.

"I never wanted to quit on that team," he said. "But at that time in my life I was confused by a lot of things. It was not my intention in that meeting to quit. But that's the way it was taken and they eventually released me."

Collins got his second chance with New Orleans, but his problems in Carolina were not over. He was caught driving under the influence after the Saints game in Charlotte, an incident that he looks back on as one of the turning points in his redemption.

"That transcended my personal problems into problems with the law," he explained. "That and the first day I spent in rehab started my turnaround."

Collins said he checked Kerry Collins, football player, at the door when he entered his court-ordered rehab. He dwelled on Kerry Collins, lost soul.

"For the first time in a long time, I looked at what I needed to do as a person," he said. "The alcohol was what fueled the fire. I used it as a rebellious tool. I really had problems with the public attention. It was almost like, 'I'll show you, I'll hurt me.' "

It all made for a riveting 35 minutes for the media, who undoubtedly will continue to pepper him the rest of the week with the questions he answered in full Monday night. Giants coach Jim Fassel, for one, didn't think his quarterback needed to address them at all.

"In my opinion he has answered them already in the way he lives his life," Fassel said. "The Kerry Collins who took the New York Giants to the Super Bowl, that's not the success story. The Kerry Collins who has turned around his life, that's the real success story." Tuesday, January 23, 2001