Forgive and forget? Collins can't, won't

Eli Manning or Kurt Warner? Everyone seems to have an opinion about the Giants' quarterback situation. Even Kerry Collins. Or maybe we should say especially Kerry Collins, who weighs in from across the country.

"I think Eli should play," Collins said. "Absolutely, no question. There's no substitute for playing. If he's as good as they think he's going to be, he can handle it. Hell, I wasn't nearly as highly touted as him and I had a winning record [7-6 as a rookie with the 1995 Panthers], for crying out loud. If I could do it, surely Eli Manning can do it."

And yes, that last comment was tinged with sarcasm. The quarterback the Giants spurned to make room for Manning still keeps up with his former team, even though Collins is a continent away and playing for the Raid-uhs. Even on a gloriously sunny day in California's wine country, Collins still feels the hurt and anger that accompanied the pre-draft frenzy surrounding Manning.

"Was it sickening to me how they chased Eli? Yeah, it was, because of the ferocity of it," Collins said after a workout at the Raiders' training camp. "It was the feeling of 'My God, they think they can do better with somebody else?' I think we all have that. If we didn't, we wouldn't be competitive."

Publicly, Collins played the good soldier in the weeks leading up to draft day, saying he was willing to support any decision the team made. Privately, he was burning. Once the Giants made the deal to get Manning from San Diego, Collins knew he was history. He's still ticked off about it.

"It eats at me a lot," he said. "That was my football team. I'd gone through a lot with them, won a lot of games, lost some games, had some good times, some bad times. I felt strongly about that team. To feel like they want to give it to somebody else is hard."

So hard that he has mixed feelings about what he wants to see happen with the Giants this season.

"The reflective part of me, thinking about what they did for me in my career, I wish them well," Collins said.

The other part?

"Part of me wants them to fall flat on their face," he said. "Absolutely. That's fair, isn't it?"

Don't know if it's fair, but I do know it's human. When someone gets rid of you, thinking someone else can do it better, you resent it.

"I've got a lot to prove," Collins said. "You've got to prove yourself every time out, every year. But of course, I want to show the Giants they made a mistake."

It might take a year or two to find out if they did, but early returns suggest Manning is the goods. He has shown remarkable improvement, even if it's only in practice and preseason games. The upside is there; it's a matter of how much better Manning can be than Collins, who at 31 is still in his prime.

Collins believes he has several quality seasons left but acknowledged it will be difficult adjusting to a backup role behind Rich Gannon. Then again, it might not be long before he has another chance to start. Although Oakland is expected to start Gannon this season, there's a good chance Collins will start in 2005. If Gannon struggles early this year, Collins' time could come sooner.

"The backup doesn't get a lot of reps in practice and isn't going to play," Collins said. "Obviously, it will be different, but I'm just trying to take advantage of running the offense in the preseason and getting the reps. After that, if the situation changes, I'll deal with that at the time."

Collins' name hardly comes up at Giants camp, but two of his favorite receivers think of him often.

"I have no problem saying I miss him," Ike Hilliard said. "No discredit to the guys here, but it's weird not having Kerry here after playing with the guy for five years."

Said Amani Toomer: "Yeah, I wish Kerry was here, but that's wishing on something that's not going to happen. You just have to move on."

So does Collins, who counterbalances his anger at the Giants with contentment about his new surroundings. Hey, what's there to complain about in the Bay Area?

"The weather is great," he said. "I don't think you realize how much of an effect weather has on your daily existence. And the people in the Raiders' organization itself, I'm really enjoying that. I feel like I'm fitting in. I feel good about where I'm working and the people I'm working with. That makes me feel good."

He'd probably feel even better if the Giants go 4-12 again.

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