Collins out to mend fences

QB wants chat with old coach

Kerry Collins and Dom Capers haven't spoken since the dark day in midseason 1998 when the then-Panthers coach released his first-round draft pick and former starter.

Collins plans to change that if he gets "the opportunity" Sunday in Houston. A lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge since Collins took the Giants to a Super Bowl and Capers took over as head coach of the expansion Texans.

"I think after a certain period of time, you just chalk it up to life and experience and you move on," Collins said yesterday. "It's not so important anymore. I can't speak for Dom but I know there's a lot to be learned from that kind of situation and I know I did."

While Capers finds himself in the identical situation to 1995 when he was the coach and Collins the first-round draft pick of the first-year Panthers, Collins can look at that time as another life.

Fighting an alcohol habit that began at age 13, Collins eventually succumbed to the intense scrutiny of the public eye, even though his NFL career started well enough. His 7-6 record as a starter in 1995 was the best by any rookie since Dan Marino. The next year, he took the Panthers to the NFC Championship Game.

But it soon feel apart. Collins told Capers that he didn't feel he could continue as a starter. Capers cut Collins as a result of that meeting, thinking him a quitter. Collins finished that season with New Orleans, where he found more trouble.

As everyone knows, the story had a happy ending. Collins turned his life around and found both peace and prosperity with the Giants.

"I think Kerry has matured a lot, like most players do," Capers said on a conference call Wednesday. "We had very good success early and then we kind of fell on hard times. I think that you measure a man by how he bounces back when he has been knocked down and he has really bounced back and that says a lot about what he is all about."

Linebacker Mike Barrow was in Carolina during Collins' tumultuous season in 1998. He got to the Giants a year after Collins, in 2000.

"When he came to Carolina, they put the crown on his head ... he was the savior for the organization, the poster boy," Barrow explained. "In that small town (Charlotte), everything you do is magnified even more so. He didn't have a chance to grow. Everything he did was analyzed good and bad. That's a lot of pressure.

"The thing I've seen the most is his maturity in handling the pressure," Barrow continued. "In Carolina, he had a lot of people looking from the outside in. He's married now and he's got people around him who love him for who he is off the field. It's enabled him to deal with the pressures of being an NFL quarterback."

This is one of those weeks that reminds Collins of how far he has come, both on and off the field.

"Sure. I think about it all the time," he admitted.

"You've just got to say that was a period of my life that happened. You acknowledge it and move on," he said. "It's part of growing. It's part of maturing as a person and I don't have any regrets."

Well, there is one. Collins feels for Texans rookie quarterback David Carr, even though he thinks that the draft's No.1 pick has handled himself splendidly.

"I don't think any rookie quarterback should play, honestly," he said, despite his personal success during the '95 season. "There's a certain maturation and time period that I think should go by before you step out on the field. But when you're the first draft pick of a new franchise, people want you to play.

"It's not fun. It's not easy. I can remember there were times in my rookie year when I didn't want to run out on the field. Your confidence can really be tested."

Collins has faced many other tests since then and passed them all in the end. For that reason, a reunion with Capers Sunday might just bring it all full-cycle.