Saints pick up puzzled Collins

Kerry Collins was claimed on waivers by the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday, one week after losing his job as starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers amid criticism that his heart wasn’t in the game.

Collins marked the occasion by breaking his weeklong silence, saying he never told the Panthers that his heart was no longer into being the quarterback.

“That hurt,” Collins told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from his agent’s office in Newport Beach, Calif. “That wasn’t what I was trying to get across. At no point did I say that.”

Collins said he met with Coach Dom Capers last Wednesday to talk about his frustrations with the way the season was going. By the end of the meeting, Collins had been demoted to the team’s third-string quarterback, and six days later, he was waived.

The Saints picked him up on Wednesday, and they will have to pick up the remainder of a 1998 contract worth $1.153 million.

Collins said he was happy to get another chance to play, but he made it clear that he wasn’t satisfied with the way he left the Panthers, who in 1995 made him the franchise’s first-ever draft pick.

“Everything happened so fast. It just got out of hand, really, and before I knew it, it was too late,” he said. “I feel bad about it.” Obviously this is very hard for me. I never said my heart wasn’t in it.”

Instead, Collins said he had what he thought was “a very good, civil discussion” with Capers about the Panthers’ winless start and the quarterback’s role in it.

“I told him, ‘If this is all happening because of me, if it’s my fault, I would understand if you wanted to go in another direction,’” Collins said. “I never intended to quit. I never intended to withdraw my services. I basically wanted to feel them out.”

After the 8 AM meeting, Capers met with reporters that afternoon and told them Collins had told him that he felt partly responsible for the team’s poor start and that he felt his heart was no longer into leading the team. Based on the meeting, Capers said, he decided to make Steve Beuerlein the starter, Shane Matthews the top backup and Collins the third-stringer.

Many of Collins’ teammates heard about the lack of heart remark and questioned whether he could ever return to lead the offense.

At that point, Collins said, he realized that his days with the Panthers were numbered.

“Once that happened, I knew it was going to be tough. Obviously I didn’t want it to get to that point,” he said. “I’m not a quitter. I never wanted to quit on those guys.”

Capers did not comment on Collins’ remarks Wednesday. But when Steinberg said last week that Collins just “blew off some steam” in the meeting and that the quarterback never meant for it to become public record, the Panthers coach said Collins’ intent was clear.

“He came in, said his heart was not into and felt that he’d be letting some of his teammates down if he played that way, with that type of attitude,” Capers said last Friday. “ ... I don’t know how there could be a misunderstanding.”

Collins will return to Charlotte as a Saint on Nov. 1 when New Orleans faces Carolina at Ericcson Stadium.

Collins, who during his stay with the Panthers never seemed reluctant to say what was on his mind, said he wasn’t sure if the whole incident would change his approach.

“It’s hard for me to put on a facade. It’s hard for me to not speak my mind,” he said. “It’s hard for me to not put my heart on my sleeve. If that gets me into trouble, it gets me into trouble. That’s just the way I am.”

New Orleans began a quarterback shuffle on Wednesday, benching 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Weurffel of Florida and replacing him with Billy Joe Tolliver. Third-stringer Jake Delhomme was cut.

Collins, who becomes a free agent at the end of the year, said he hopes the spot with the Saints will allow him to try to change how other people view him.

“In life all you can do at this point is move on and try and live for the future,” he said. “Once people understand and kind of hear my side of the story, I would think that at least they wouldn’t have the same opinion because this thing just got out of hand.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who will face the Panthers on Sunday, hadn’t heard Collins’ side of the story Wednesday when he ripped the quarterback.

“He disgraced Johny Unitas and all the great quarterbacks that ever played this game,” Sapp said. “Archie Manning lived with New Orleans through all the dismal years and came out each week and gave his blood and guts.”

On the other hand, Saints coach Mike Ditka said it would have been foolish not to claim Collins.

“He’s a first-round pick ... [who has] played very well in the league,” Ditka said. “He’s got some problems. He’s got to understand that this if another opportunity in life for him. Everything changes. You wipe off the slate and start again.”
Thur. OCt. 15. 1998