Collins Completes Passes, Comeback

All Kerry Collins asked from the New York Giants was a second chance.

A chance to prove he could overcome his drinking problem. A chance to prove he wasn't a racist like some former teammates claimed. A chance to prove he wasn't a quitter.

The Giants gave him a second chance, and got a trip to the Super Bowl in return in less than two years.

Collins shredded the Minnesota Vikings' injury-depleted secondary with a record-setting five-touchdown passing performance Sunday to lead the Giants to a 41-0 victory in the NFC championship game.

``A perfect game in the NFL is impossible these days, but today Kerry was perfect,'' offensive tackle Lomas Brown said.

Collins, whose off-the-field problems had his career in jeopardy after the 1998 season, broke almost every Giants postseason record, hitting 28 of 39 passes for a season-high 381 yards in just three-plus quarters. He completed his first four passes to give the Giants a 14-0 lead after just 2:13.

By the end of the half, it was 34-0 and Collins had four touchdowns.

``There have been questions, `Can Kerry step forward and carry this team?''' Giants coach Jim Fassel said. ``He answered that bell today. No doubt about it. Never a doubt in my mind, and he stepped in and did it today. If anybody has any question, they probably did not watch the game today.''

Collins not only has answered the questions about getting his game back together, he also has gotten his life together the past two years.

He's dealt with his drinking problems and has become a leader on the team. Teammates wonder where the racist stuff came from.

``I told him after the game, `I'm honored to play with you,''' defensive end Michael Strahan said, noting Collins finally gave the Giants their first quality quarterback since Phil Simms.

``I'm not slighting other guys, but Kerry is a gifted player,'' Strahan added. ``Even when he was written off, I think he did a phenomenal job of turning his life around and keeping focus. It shows you, you can do some great things in life.''

Making the change hasn't been easy for Collins. He's been under the spotlight in New York. There has been pressure since he signed a $16 million contract in February 1999.

Some of that strain seemed to leave Collins with each step he took on his victory lap around Giants Stadium with the championship trophy in hand after the game.

``You get beat up and you get beat down and people call you stuff,'' Collins said. ``Call you `loser' and call you all that kind of stuff. It's going to make you tough, and that's why it made the moment sweet.''

The Giants' game plan called for Collins to throw early and often.

``We felt we matched up well with their secondary,'' Fassel said.

After recovering a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, fullback Greg Comella caught an 18-yard touchdown pass on the next play from scrimmage.

The Vikings never recovered.

Collins added an 8-yard touchdown pass to Joe Jurevicius and a 7-yarder to Hilliard in the second quarter and a 7-yarder to Amani Toomer in the third quarter. He spent most of the fourth quarter watching Jason Garrett mop up.

``Unbelievable game for Kerry,'' said Hilliard, who had 10 catches for 155 yards.

``Kerry was our horse and we rode him all the way,'' guard Glenn Parker added.

The fifth pick overall in 1995, Collins has come a long way in the last five years.

He led the Carolina Panthers to the NFC championship game in 1996, but his career turned quickly during the next two years because of an alcohol problem.

It got so bad in 1998 that the Panthers waived him because of poor play and a locker-room confrontation in which players accused him of using a racial slur. There were also suspicions he quit on the team.

Collins eventually signed with New Orleans, but was arrested on drunken-driving charges on a trip back to Carolina.

The Giants took a lot of criticism for signing Collins. It was worth it.

``He wasn't a bad person back then,'' said Jurevicius, like Collins, a Penn State product. ``I've said that all along I knew him. He made a change in his personal life. It was a big step for him. He persevered. He had a lot of doubters whether he'd be a good football player and he is making all those people eat words.'' Dec/Jan 01