The Giants have finally taken the cuffs off Kerry Collins, and he's broken 300 yards in each of the last two games. He should stay in the same neighborhood after torching Atlanta, the softest Sunday on the schedule. But the truth is, he could roll another 300, do it again and again, and nothing will change for New York's unheralded quarterback.
Nobody shows up at the games wearing uniform shirts with 5 on the back. Collins' picture on the back page, his name in large type is nothing we have come to expect. The Giants are the one live football team in town, but Collins continues to be the No. 3 quarterback. And he's that high only because this is another quiet year at Columbia.
The Jets, going nowhere, own the dominant quarterback names. Chad, starting over, and Vinny, who no longer needs a helmet, have been the compelling stories this season. Collins is the quiet man, unspectacular, underappreciated. He has started 62 straight times for the Giants and the crowds have responded with a shrug.
"He's putting up good numbers. He keeps answering the bell. People are gonna wake up someday and realize he's a damn good quarterback," said Jim Fassel.
The coach saw the same thing happening in 1991, his first year here. "I remember the crowd booing Phil Simms, who belongs in the Hall of Fame. They'd be booing him," and Fassel was thinking, "What is that all about?" A dozen years later, he thinks he's figured it out. "There's a lot of skepticism in New York."
Chad was an unexpected surprise. Now the fans get to watch him grow up, reach for the stars. Vinny is a Long Island guy. He's been around forever. People are still complaining that he was pulled from the Eagles game too soon.
Collins, with nine years in the league, doesn't ignite the same passion. He came to the Giants in 1999 and, a year later, took them to the Super Bowl. The game before Super Bowl XXXV, the Giants shocked Minnesota, winning, 41-0. Collins threw for 381 yards and fivetouchdowns. He was on top of the world. All he had to do, two weeks later, was do it again. New York would have fallen in love with him. But the Giants came up small in the Super Bowl and Collins played like a deer caught in the headlights.
Last January, he was minutes away from being a playoff hero against the 49ers. The Giants' collapse ended that chance. This season has been too much of a struggle. The kick that went out of bounds and the kick that didn't cost the Giants two games. The last two games were better, so Fassel is raving about Collins' most recent numbers. But the coach is hardly a crowd.
It doesn't help that Collins insists on being unexciting off the field. Yesterday, leaning against his locker, he was working hard to make 1-7 Atlanta sound formidable. All he managed to do was wrap himself in the same tired lines.
"We're kidding ourselves if we think we can just go out there and beat anybody right now," he said. "But having said that, we do have a little bit more confidence after the way the last couple of weeks have gone. But I don't think we expect to go out there and be able to beat anyone just with who we have in this locker room."
We think of quarterbacks as golden boys. The guys who thrive on attention. That isn't Collins, says his backup, Jesse Palmer. "He's not concerned with the glamour and glitz," Palmer said. "He enjoys his privacy."
I mentioned to Collins that he seemed to make a conscious effort to avoid the spotlight, and he didn't hesitate. "I would completely agree with you," he said. "I really could care less if I get the attention or the notoriety. I try to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible. It's what fits my personality. It's what I'm most comfortable with. That is the best way I do my job. By concentrating on football and worrying about football and not chasing headlines or glory. Because in this town, the second you start chasing is when you get the rug pulled out from under you."
He did his chasing before he became a Giant, when the most important call he wanted to make was last call. That Collins is gone. He married last year and a child is on the way. He practices. He goes home. He plays. He goes home. Seems to be working.