Collins expects to hear the boos

Kerry Collins has heard the boos before at Ericsson Stadium. The only difference on Sunday is that he’ll be on the visitors’ sideline.

Collins, the former Panthers quarterback who was picked up by the New Orleans Saints after being waived by Carolina, said he doesn’t expect a warm reception when the Saints come to town.

“As far as the fans go, I got treated pretty badly when I was there, so I don’t think it could be any worse,” Collins told the New Orleans Times-Picayune earlier this week. “These are unusual circumstances, I will say that. But it’s happening and it’s going to happen. I can’t control what the fans do. They’ve been booing me. They’ve done a lot of things to me when I was there.”

Collins, who was waived Oct. 13 after he supposedly told Panthers coach Dom Capers that his “heart wasn’t into it,” will be the Saints’ backup quarterback against his former team.

Saints coach Mike Ditka said earlier in the week that he wouldn’t start Collins on Sunday. How much he will play is uncertain.

“Kerry can start, I’m just not going to do that,” Ditka said, adding with a laugh, “That would please too many people.

“I just don’t like the environment. If he has to play, that’s one thing. But to put him out there, I think there’s too many sharks in the water.”

Asked whether Collins’ return would motivate them, Panthers players sounded almost coached in their denials.

“From a player’s standpoint, it’s not the Carolina Panthers against Kerry Collins,” fullback William Floyd said. “It’s the Carolina Panthers against the New Orleans Saints. I don’t think anybody’s focusing on the fact Kerry’s going to be on the other sideline. We have too many problems of our own to be worried about that.”

Mirrored linebacker Jeff Brady, one of the most vocal critics of Collins in the quarterback’s final days, “We’re 0-7. I don’t look at Kerry Collins as a motivator for me at all. We need to get a win. I really don’t care who’s quarterbacking out there. We just have to get a win somehow so it brings up the morale anyway.

“This is a game. I’m not going to try and antagonize the guy. I’m sure the fans will boo the hell out of him as it is, anyway.”

Capers said he couldn’t be concerned with the reception Collins receives from fans at Ericsson.

“I’m just hoping we get a good reception,” he said.

Collins was not a locker room favorite with the Panthers. He struggled for respect after uttering a racial epithet in 1997 and lost many players when he essentially quit on the team after a 51-23 loss to Atlanta on Oct. 4.

He met with Capers on Oct. 7 and, according to Capers, said his heart wasn’t into starting for the Panthers anymore. Collins later denied making the statement. But by then it was too late. He was waived and picked up by the Saints.

Ditka said Billy Joe Tolliver would start at quarterback. But if Tolliver gets hurt, Collins would go in.

“If Billy Joe went down, I’d be ready to go,” Collins told the Times-Picayune. “That’s how I’m approaching the week. But I’m not at all hesitant about going in there. If I go in, there are a lot of guys in this locker room who will be counting on me. They’re going to need me to be sharp and focused on what we’re trying to do. Yeah, there’s some history for me. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t.”

Ditka wouldn’t say when Collins would be inserted into the Saints’ lineup. But he indicated it could be as early as Nov. 8 at Minnesota or, more likely, Nov. 15 against the St. Louis Rams at the Superdome.

“Is Kerry going to stay the backup quarterback? No, Ditka said. “But I’ll make that decision when and where he starts and he will start. That’s about all I can say. He’s really our property now and I want to clear one thing up: we’re elated to have him. I don’t live in the past. I don’t worry about it. Everybody should be happy. The main thing I’m worried about right now is not whether Carolina’s happy or I’m happy. I’m worried about if I can get this kid to be happy.”

To that end, Ditka said the Saints would try to help Collins -- rumored to be a heavy drinker in Charlotte -- get in touch with people who might be of help if he has a drinking problem.

Ditka also hopes to sit down with Collins and talk with him about finding God.

“I think he has to have a meaningful relationship with two people,” Ditka said. “First of all, I think he’s got to have probably a female in his life. I think he’s got to have a meaningful relationship with our Lord. I think those things have to happen. That’s my opinion. I’m not an expert. Like I said, until you come full circle spiritually, it’s pretty hard to deal with the rest of the stuff in this world.”
Oct. 29, 98