Cameras and microphones were all over the Giants locker room Monday, even though the calendar read a very non-football-like March 1. Players and coaches kidded about why there was so much hubbub on the first day of the off-season workout program, knowing full well it was all about Kerry Collins.
The Giants controversial quarterback met the media for the first time Monday, saying flatly he is neither a racist nor a diagnosed alcoholic. He admitted he's made some mistakes, including allowing alcohol to play too big a part in his life, but says he has rededicated himself to football.
"There has been a lot of talk about my alcohol use, and that's been one of the things I've looked at and examined," he said. "It's tough to take a good, hard look at yourself, and I feel I've done that. Alcohol certainly played a role in my life, too much of a role in my life. Doctors did not diagnose me as an alcoholic, but my focus now is to be the best quarterback I can be and alcohol plays no part in that."
Meanwhile, some of his new teammates were getting their first glimpse of the man some say could lead them to the Super Bowl, while others say he could destroy the chemistry of what has been a together locker room.
"I think that's fair to say, yes," Collins replied when asked if he was going to have to work a little harder to win over his teammates, who have heard all the stories of his past in Carolina. "From the things I've read and heard, most of the guys are willing to give me a chance. I'm confident in myself and who I am, and given that chance, I think they will like what they find. I will be more than willing to talk to anyone on the team about anything that has gone on."
Several players agreed that Collins, who signed for $16.88 million over four years, deserves the chance to show them firsthand the type of person he is.
"Everyone deserves a second chance," said fullback Charles Way, who like most Giants has heard the stories about Collins making a racial slur to a Carolina teammate at a party. "I've heard from some of his close friends and they've told me that's not the type of guy he is. Everyone makes mistakes, you just have to put it behind you. People have told me not to believe what I've heard, and that Kerry is a good guy to have on your team."
"He doesn't have to answer a lot of questions. He doesn't have to hold himself accountable to us," added wide receiver Ike Hilliard. "Life goes on, he's here now and he's my teammate."
"I'm going to let him have a fresh start, and let him be himself before making any judgments," said strong safety Sam Garnes. "I see him as someone who could help us win. I know Kent [Graham] being the competitor he is will only get better with Kerry around to push him."
"I know he's had problems, but I'm not one to judge someone else's life," said tackle Roman Oben.
All four players, establishing themselves as young leaders, happen to be black. In addressing the issue of the racial slur Monday, the quarterback said, "To my dying day, I will deny the fact that I am a racist. I know what kind of person I am, what my beliefs are.
"There have been some things in my life I've had to address, some issues," continued Collins, who will wear uniform No. 5. "I feel confident I've taken the steps I need to take to address those issues and be less of an enigma than I have been in the past. I've taken a long, hard look at myself, and feel more sure of myself and more comfortable with the situation that I'm in.
"This organization is one of the best in all sports, not just football. This is the Northeast, it's where I'm from, I feel more comfortable here than I did at a couple of other places I've been. There's a big support group here for me, a lot of Penn State people, and a lot of people I know. There are a lot of advantages for me coming to the Giants."