His thing is not everything

NFL stars have homes with more rooms than a Marriott, and swimming pools with waterfalls as high as their stars. They have Hummers as oversized as their fame, and idolizing fans who memorize player stats but forget their wives' birthdays.

They may have devoted families. They definitely have amorous admirers who would like to start one.

They have it all.

That's not what Kerry Collins wants.

This is how Collins spends his off-season: He wakes at 5 a.m., sunrise still a rumor. Soon, he's at his 820-acre cattle ranch, Blue Q, among hardwood trees and pines, in the foothills of central North Carolina's Uwharrie Mountains. He drives his tractor, tilling earth. He bales hay. He weighs and tags calves. Kerry Collins' calves. His brow sweats, and a mind that is prone to overactivity rests.

One day he and his wife, Brooke, will build a house on this land and live there. The quarterback will drop back one last time, then drop out. A cattle rancher.

"That's his passion now," Brooke said. "He does it with as much passion as football."

It is no coincidence that Collins, 30, is coming off the best season of his career. He's as content as a cow cudding in a pasture. He says Brooke, whom he married in March 2002, is the first person to whom "I can tell my innermost thoughts and secrets. I never really had that before."

They are expecting their first child in February and agreed to find out the baby's sex before birth.

"This is the most exciting thing that ever happened to me in my life," he said.

He's become a homebody. In the off-season he and Brooke live in Concord, N.C. They rarely go to Charlotte, the big city where the trouble started, where Collins was befriended by "Too Much" and "Too Soon."

Kerry Collins. The name is poison in Charlotte.

"Where he's coming from in his life, he had about both feet out the door in the NFL," Giants coach Jim Fassel said.

You know how that story began. He was labeled a drunk, racist and quitter.

What is better is how it may end. "I'm so much more at peace than I've ever been," he said. "I'm just comfortable, confident in my skills at quarterback and my ability to lead."

When Jeremy Shockey publicly called Bill Parcells "a homo," one player told Shockey about his own youthful mistakes.

Collins doesn't want Shockey to repeat them.

Kerry Collins. The name is golden in New York. New York, of all places.

"It's just been a pleasure," Giants receiver Ike Hilliard said, "to see him stand tall."

Collins' self-discovery is such a good story that it obscures this: Few quarterbacks are better. Collins throws the deep ball as well as anyone, possesses touch and has started 54 straight games, as durable as Gor-tex.

"Kerry Collins is one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said. "If Kerry has the time to throw the ball, he's one of the top three quarterbacks, hands down."

He could own New York but turns down nearly every endorsement offer. He values his free time and charity work more. He hunts deer and turkeys.

"It's not so much about the actual hunting and taking of the animal," Collins said.It's about peace and clarity.

"It's good," he said, "for my soul."

Collins plays with teammates who have it all. When he is finished playing, he will pick country songs on his guitar and romp in ponds with his two Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Fiver and Two.

Kerry Collins will be a cattle rancher.

That is all.
Aug 21,03