Kerry Collins has already delivered the best Super Bowl performance of the week, no matter what happens in the game.
In an extraordinarily candid 40-minute news conference, the Giants quarterback calmly stood in the pocket and handled some tough questions from the hard-rushing national media. He coolly, bluntly and completely answered queries about his checkered past and all the ugliness that went with it: alcoholism, charges of being a racist and accusations that he quit on the Carolina Panthers, his first professional team.
Collins' personal turnaround is one of the great inspirational stories of this or any Super Bowl. Two years ago, he was preparing to enter the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan. after the NFL ordered him to undergo rehabilitation for his alcohol problem. Today he is sober, happy and 60 minutes from being a Super Bowl champion.
What is perhaps most remarkable about Collins is that he willingly discusses it all, without lashing out at his inquisitors, without getting defensive - indeed, without so much as a roll of his eyes or a smirk. The news conference in a large tent outside the Giants hotel here was intended to give the swelled number of media here for Sunday's Giants-Ravens Super Bowl an opportunity to ask the same questions New York-area reporters have directed at Collins for two years.
Collins was impressive, giving long, thoughtful answers to every question. He never came close to losing his cool, or declining to respond to a question. Now Collins hopes he can talk about football in the three days of media access remaining before the big game.
Collins opened the news conference with a statement that referred to the media attention at the Super Bowl and his understanding that reporters want to ask about his personal history.
"Based on a lot of things that have happened in my past," Collins said, "I figured to do this in this kind of setting, to talk about things, to give you an opportunity to ask the questions you want to ask, rather than throughout the week, with different things coming up at different times. I thought this would be a better venue. I'm not naïve to think it won't be addressed again throughout the rest of the week."
Pat Hanlon, the Giants Vice President of Communications, thought Collins would be best served by dealing with the questions in one setting, rather than having the subject raised constantly throughout the week.
"The approach is by saying Kerry Collins is going to be available on Monday night for 30 minutes to answer any questions about anything," Hanlon said. "Then what we'd like to do is focus on the game, the season - what's happening now instead of rehashing the past the rest of the week.
"What we're doing is saying, `hey, we understand it's an important issue, we understand it's a nice story, it's part of this Super Bowl and it's something that needs to be addressed.' This is the time we would like to address it. The rest of the week we'd like to talk about football and talk about this team and what's happened to it."
Here are some of the subjects Collins discussed at the news conference.
On what happened to him, "professionally and personally" during his tenure in Charlotte:
"That might take up the whole half-hour we have here," Collins. "Certainly alcohol was a big part of the problems I had in Charlotte. Alcohol caused me to act in an erratic way. And aside from that there were certain personal issues I had to deal with besides alcohol: some family issues, some personal issues that I needed to address. As everybody saw, the confusion, the angst, the anger that I was experiencing at that time came to the fore. Alcohol fueled it. I was described as a lost soul at one time and I definitely think that was the case."
On whether he believes he is a bigger success story off or on the field this season.
"I think I'm a better success story off the field," Collins said. "Things I've done off the field have transcended into my professional life. With all the things I went through I had a hard time separating Kerry Collins the quarterback and Kerry Collins the person. That distinction wasn't very clear until recently, until I realized that I needed to take care of myself before I could do anything on the football field.
"I'm very, very proud of being at the Super Bowl as the quarterback for one of the teams. I'm more proud of the things I do daily that make my life what it is today. It's been tough and it's been a great learning experience."
Was there one moment when he got scared and realized that he needed help?
I think the DUI (when he was arrested in Charlotte as a member of the New Orleans Saints in 1998) had something to do with that," Collins said. "That transcended, `okay, I have personal problems, now I have personal problems - now I have trouble with the law.' "I was ordered to go into rehab by the NFL. I decided to go in two weeks early. That first day when I went into rehab, that was a time when I realized it was at a point where it was pretty bad for me. To go somewhere in a structured, controlled environment to receive help was certainly very shocking for me. That's a feeling I'll never forget and gives me motivation to keep doing what I'm doing."
On the accusation that he made a racist remark to a teammate in 1998 as a member of the Panthers.
"It was the last night in training camp," Collins said. "We were all out having drinks. I was very intoxicated. There was some celebrating going on in the dorm. 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 was trying to say something I knew I shouldn't be saying, but that the guys wouldn't take it that way, because they knew I couldn't be saying that. But in a strange sense in my polluted, chemically-altered mind that maybe it would bring some sense of camaraderie. I certainly did not mean for it to be taken the way it was.
"That incident, unfortunately, gave me a tag that I don't believe is what I'm all about. I don't think it ever was anything that I'm about. I did not mean for it to be taken the way it was taken."
On the day he allegedly quit on the Panthers by telling coach Dom Capers he no longer had the desire to play.
"I had a discussion with Dom Capers that day and it did not turn out the way I wanted it to turn out," Collins said. "Eventually they released me. Once the dye was cast there was no turning back from that initial conversation. I never wanted to quit on that team. If I wanted to quit I wouldn't be standing here today. I was at a time in my life where I was confused about a lot of things and some of the issues may have been responsible for some of the things I said in that meeting."
On whether upon joining the Giants he tried to convince his new teammates that what they had heard about him was untrue.
"I thought if I went in there and put on some big production and shook hands and slapped everybody on the back and say, `that didn't happen' or `that wasn't the case' … I didn't see what words were going to do at that point," Collins said. "I knew it wasn't going to be a quick fix. I took the approach that day-in and day-out, I'm going to do the things I need to do to prove to these people that all the things they heard and read were untrue.
"I'm most thankful that the guys on that team gave me that opportunity. I don't think a lot of teams would have and I don't think a lot of guys would have. I'm more indebted to them for that than anything on this earth. Going into this gave I think back to the opportunity they gave me. My a big part of my motivation for wanting to do well these last two years has been to repay them.
"I take the approach that I'm going to busy my butt every day to try to prove to these people that the things they heard and read are not true. I knew it wasn't going to happen overnight. I decided to be myself, which is something I hadn't done before. If I let them see what kind of person I am then everything would work out okay."
On why he never gets angry at the questions that probe his past.
"You have to be honest with yourself," Collins said. "I feel like I've turned the corner. But the thing about this business: we are in the public eye. When you come to the Super Bowl, it's going to be talked about. It's fair game. I always thought going through all my problems, if I ever did get to the Super Bowl, that it was going to be revisited time and time again. I've accepted that fact and realized it's part of the deal. It's part of being in the public eye."
Oh yes, there was one more issue to deal with: the rumor that he drinks 15-20 diet cokes a day.
"It's 3-5," he said. "And it's Diet Pepsi."