Collins' makeup -- Big arm, big heart

The spiral thrown by Kerry Collins spun through the air, arcing then landing 50 yards downfield in the waiting hands of a sprinting Amani Toomer, who crossed the goal line just after securing the catch.

A pass of breathtaking beauty, on one of the rare sunny mornings this month. Yes, this was only a June drill, but such passes -- and Collins' past three weeks of precision -- could have a lasting effect on the Giants this season.

"Okay, he's ready," Toomer recalled thinking about his quarterback upon making the reception. "Kerry doesn't need practice or (training) camp. Let's just go to the games."

On the sideline, recently acquired veterans Brian Mitchell and Dorsey Levens -- Eagles teammates a season ago, now part of the reason the Giants believe they had a splendid off-season -- started to realize they should no longer be impressed by such throws from Collins. They should expect them.

"Dorsey and I were just talking about how he throws the ball. He has a gun. He's very accurate," said Mitchell, the return specialist. "When you're on a team with (high expectations) you start looking at the quarterback. Kerry is someone who truly understands this offense."

"His arm strength is a lot better than I thought it was," said Levens, a running back. "He's a lot bigger than I thought he was, too."

Mitchell and Levens already have won a Super Bowl. Asked if they can win another with Collins, both chose a one-word response: "Definitely."

"He's a great guy. He's real laid-back, kind of a quiet leader," Levens said. "He seems trouble-free, like he's at peace with everything."

These days, Collins is definitely at peace. He and Brooke, his wife since March 2002, will spend most of the next month on their 820-acre cattle ranch in North Carolina, not far from her family's home. Collins will tend to his cattle, which number 150. He will build fences, bale hay.

"It's quiet," he said. "It seems like when I'm there, I'm at peace."

That feeling, Collins has learned, doesn't have to be fleeting. Since signing to be the Giants' quarterback in 1999, Collins has rebuilt his life and reputation, emerging from a past where he battled alcohol abuse and the alternating labels of racist and quitter during his early years in the NFL.

"I'm just thankful that I got the help I needed to get, the support I got, the perspective that people helped me get," said Collins, 30. "I feel like I started giving myself a chance. Before, I kept getting in my own way. I wasn't giving myself a chance to be successful and to be a happy person, basically. Once I got that perspective -- it doesn't happen overnight -- but you start to grow."

Collins' growth has truly come full circle. He doesn't seek help anymore as much as he gives it.

Collins has adopted the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in Manhattan, pledging $500,000 to fully renovate the 35-bed Pediatric Inpatient Unit. He will donate proceeds from the inaugural Kerry Collins Foundation Celebrity Bowl-O-Rama on July 12-13 to the endeavor.

"These kids break your heart to see the situations they're in," Collins said. "You know, I think when you're fortunate enough to make a decent amount of money, the most satisfaction you can get from it is by helping other people. I feel fortunate just to be in this situation. Why not (be charitable)? That's the way I feel about it."

No stranger to Rusk, Collins raised $100,000 -- more than half from his own donations -- to build the Kerry M. Collins Computer Center and Classroom at the institute. He donates $5,000 for each touchdown he throws and each Giants victory. He visits regularly, plays computer games with the patients and delivers presents. He had one teen-age patient as his guest at the Dallas game last season; after the game, he gave the young man his jersey and arranged for him to meet Emmitt Smith.

"Kerry is a rare individual in that he's made a continuing and ongoing commitment to the children here," said Herb Zaretsky, administrator and clinical associate professor in the department of rehabilitation medicine at Rusk. "He's come to know the children personally, by name. What is remarkable, besides his enduring contributions and compassion, is that his commitment here is not about Kerry. It's about the children. He often comes without publicity, though he gives us notice, and visits the children. That to me says a lot about his commitment."

Jamey Crimmins of After the Game Marketing has represented Collins since 1995 and helps to arrange his philanthropies. Crimmins has just one complaint: He finds it "extremely" frustrating to have a client who largely forbids Crimmins from publicizing his charitable deeds.

"He's done a lot of good for a lot of people," Crimmins said. "I cringe when I hear some of the things people say about Kerry. I think, 'If they only knew.'... "But my idiot client" -- he laughed -- "won't let me tell people."

Said Collins: "To be in a position where you can help, where you can make a difference, that means more than anything to me."

These are good times for Collins, who spent much of the recent minicamp and passing camp laughing and smiling as if he hadn't a care in the world.

"I feel like I just keep getting better and better," he said. "My confidence keeps getting higher and higher. As (my career) goes on, it seems to get easier. Things that used to be slightly overwhelming in the past aren't overwhelming at all anymore. (I don't have) anxiety before games, anxiety about performance. I believe in myself, and that's why I'm going to play well."

His confidence has been contagious, trickling down to every aspect of the Giants.

"I mean this sincerely: There isn't anyone who can throw the ball around like Kerry," coach Jim Fassel said. "To me, Kerry can make all the throws in this league. I don't see anyone who can make all those types of throws all over the field better than him."

Fassel has designed the offense in accordance with Collins' strengths, and it shows. He finds tight end Jeremy Shockey over the middle. Receiver Tim Carter between defenders on a deep route. Running back Tiki Barber on a designed dump-off that goes for distance against the starting defense. Toomer everywhere on the edges.

"I want to create situations where Kerry ends up playing catch one-on-one, where he goes back and can make a very quick, precise decision," Fassel said. "Quarterbacks want clarity in what you're asking them to see and do. When you give him the clarity, he's tremendous."

The off-season is almost over, the Giants won't meet again until July 24 in Albany, N.Y., for training camp, when the season effectively begins.

"Hey, nice job," Fassel called out as Collins left the practice bubble Thursday. "A hell of a three weeks. Good job."

"Thanks," Collins said, offering a salute. "See ya."
Jun 22,2003

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