'Boot Boy' in Step

Collins tries to help out when he can while on the mend

It has been a strange, depressing season for the Giants, and few scenes have been as strange and depressing as one that repeated itself every day in practice last week: Kerry Collins glumly watching the Giants work out and wearing a protective boot on his sprained left ankle.

"I'll tell you, it's been tough,'' said Collins, who jokingly called himself "boot boy'' during the week. "I haven't missed practice for five years during the regular season. Just being out there is strange. And I know once Sunday night comes, it is going to be really hard.''

Sunday night came and went, with the Giants playing the Saints and Collins unable to start because of injury for the first time since 1997. It was the first time he did not start for any reason since Nov. 21, 1999, a streak of 67 regular-season starts. Collins' streak ended two games shy of Fran Tarkenton's team record, set from 1967-71.

"If I wasn't so close, it wouldn't have been so disappointing,'' Collins said. "It is never a thing that you strive for in the sense that that is all that you think about or all you worry about. But because I got close, I think that makes it a little bit harder.''

Collins takes pride in his durability, which became a bigger issue this season behind a weak line. The last major injury he suffered was in a 1997 preseason game, when he played for the Panthers and the Broncos' Bill Romanowski broke his jaw. Collins missed the first two regular-season games.

Now that he is out, he is not going to foolishly rush back, especially with the line in tatters and the Giants out of playoff contention. Jesse Palmer started last night, and he and Jason Garrett are more likely to handle the quarterback duties in the final two games than Collins.

"It's one thing to just kind of do what I'm doing now and walk around and stuff like that,'' Collins said. "Obviously, it's another thing to take drops and have to escape and that sort of thing.''

Coach Jim Fassel said: "I'm not going to put him out there if he's limited in his movement. If he can defend himself, I'll put him out there. If he can't, then I'm not going to put him out there.''

Collins was upset about the play on which he was injured. The Redskins' Bruce Smith took him down after a delay-of-game penalty on the Giants. Neither Collins nor Smith heard a whistle, but Collins was not happy about Smith twisting him to the ground, causing his ankle to be pinned beneath Smith.

"I felt it was unnecessary on a couple of fronts,'' Collins said. "First of all, obviously, it was a dead play. Secondly, to be pulled down after you throw the ball, from behind like that, I don't know. To get hit is one thing, but for it to have continued on the way it did. Obviously, he knew I didn't have the ball ... It is one thing if you get hit and they send a message. To get pulled down like that was pretty much useless.''

Collins thought Smith's desire to break the NFL career sack record contributed to his eagerness. Soon after Collins was hurt, Smith sacked Palmer for his 199th sack, breaking Reggie White's record. "I am sure that had something to do with it,'' Collins said. "He was doing his [best] to get to me and I understand that. I am not saying he was wrong, but I just felt like it was kind of unnecessary.''

So Collins was left to stand and watch practice. Fassel gave him the option of staying in the locker room, but he said that would have made it even worse.

"Oh, God, I couldn't imagine hanging around [the locker room],'' Collins said. "You talk about being bored. I want to be out there and see how things are going with the offense, see if there is anything I can help out with.''

Still, Collins' friends and family are putting up with something they have not seen recently: an antsy Kerry. "I think I'm driving my teammates crazy,'' he said. "They're seeing a side of me that they've never seen before.''

Collins has tried to be helpful and supportive for Palmer, but that role has not come easily.

"There is a fine line,'' Collins said. "You don't want to tell him too much because we all have our individual styles with how we play the game and with how we approach the game. I have given him little tidbits here and there, but Jesse is a smart guy.

"There are just some things that you have to do by yourself, and this is one of them, really.''