Sobriety only road for Collins

New Raiders QB turned his life around five years ago

Since 1999, life in the public eye has meant living in a very transparent confessional for Kerry Collins. By his own choice.

Ask the Oakland Raider quarterback a tough question and you'll get unvarnished truth. He was a party boy. He made mistakes. He underwent counseling.

He's a recovering alcoholic who hasn't taken a drop in five years.

"That did more for me than anything I will ever do in my life," he said Wednesday of going on the wagon. "I needed to learn about myself."

The mandate was clear to him. Stop or ...

"If I don't, I'm not going to be around very long," he said. "And I'm certainly not going to be in the NFL for a very long time ... and who knows what was going to happen after that."

Discussing the mistakes he has made, Collins is open, forthright and seemingly unashamed to leave himself so metaphorically unclothed.

It's not that he enjoys confessions. But he is proud of what he has done to turn his life around.

It is also that he needs it. It's a catharsis, a reaffirmation, a reminder to himself. And if his story can somehow be of assistance to others, then the fact he can, has and will continue to tell how he confronted his personal demons will have been more than worth the while.

Taken with the fifth pick in the 1995 NFL Draft, Collins was the first player drafted in Carolina Panthers history. He was heralded as the Golden Boy, and when he helped lead the team to a 12-4 record in his second year, falling one game short of the Super Bowl, the description fit.

But something was festering inside him.

"I had a lot of problems with fame and all the things that come with it," he said. "I'm a pretty private person. That was hard for me. I felt like it was life and death, winning or losing a football game. That can be hard to handle because there are so many highs and lows in this game. If you can't ... have perspective on it, it's going to cause you problems."

To alleviate the pressure, Collins became Mr. Party Hearty. He says he didn't drink every day, but when he did, he couldn't enjoy just one beer.

"When I drank, I didn't stop," he told reporters at the Super Bowl in January 2001.

Bad old times ensued. His binges resulted in memory loss -- and loss of tact. There was a training camp incident in which he used a racial slur. He says he was just trying to be one of the guys, but he was too drunk to realize it came out as offensive. To this day, that incident involving black teammates in Carolina haunts him more than any other.

"God, that was so far from who I am as a person," he said. "I was trying to be a funny guy, trying to make a joke and I was drunk. It was taken in a way I did not want it taken.

"To my dying day, I would deny that I'm a racist. That was one of the events leading up to my decision to take a look at my alcohol use."

The second came shortly thereafter. He was picked up for a DUI offense and his driver's license was taken away.

In February 1999 he checked into the Menninger Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Center in Topeka, Kan. Eight weeks later, he emerged ready to regain control of his life.

"I was fortunate enough to be humble enough to say 'I've got a problem,'" Collins said.

That same month, the New Orleans Saints gave him his unconditional release. A week later, he was claimed by the New York Giants. After an unsteady season in 1999 splitting time with Kent Graham, things came together in 2000.

He passed for 3,610 yards, 22 touchdowns and led the Giants to a 12-4 record and an appearance in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens.

During interviews leading up to the game, Collins aired out his troubled past, fielding question after question in interview sessions.

"It was very important from the sense that the truth shall set you free," he said. "I kind of laid it all out there. It was a big step in my maturation process."

Then came the game. Collins was 15-for-39 for 112 yards and four interceptions in a 34-7 loss.

"What I learned from that is that the sun is still going to come up the next day," Collins said. "Even though I was terrible ... Kerry Collins the person was going to be OK."

When the Giants let him go April 28, the Raiders snatched him from the free-agent pile. Four months later, he's the starter.

"He has overcome a lot of different things," coach Norv Turner said. "(With) some guys it either breaks them or they come through and do what he has done."

As fate would have it, his first regular season start for Oakland is against Dom Capers, the coach who drafted him back in 1995.

"Like most of us when we're young, (you) think you can handle anything," Capers said. "I give him credit. Boy, he bounced back. He showed what he's made out of. He picked himself up (and) he's been going strong since. I'm happy for Kerry. I admire him for what he's been able to do. That's the mark of a man."