Collins Becomes Giant of a Man

Kerry Collins, you ask?

The same Kerry Collins they called a quitter?

The same Kerry Collins who emerged from a police station puffing a stogie after a drunk-driving arrest?

The same Kerry Collins stigmatized as a racist?

The same Kerry Collins who, in his second NFL season, helped lead his team to the NFC Championship Game only to falter?

The same Kerry Collins who just two years ago was told to scram by Carolina and New Orleans?

Well, actually, no.

This is not the same Kerry Collins.

And, for at least one Sunday, these were not your father's New York football Giants, at least on offense.

As for their quarterback, he is calmer now. Collins no longer wakes up disoriented and fuzzy from the night before. He now lives one day at a time. You must do that when you're a recovering alcoholic, but especially so when you're an NFL quarterback and there are so many others depending upon you to be their leader.

That is what Kerry Collins is now.

"I'm honored to play with you," teammate Michael Strahan told him Sunday.

That came in the afterglow of the New York Giants' 41-0 destruction of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, a history-making afternoon by No. 5, who nudged alongside Sid Luckman in the record books with five touchdown passes.

The Giants were a slight underdog, but Collins became an odds-on favorite in life when he decided to never touch alcohol again. That was in 1999. He went into rehab. "I've had so much help since I've gotten here. You know, no one man does it alone."

His coach, Jim Fassel, and teammates stood beside him, sturdy as the George Washington Bridge.

"He's a strong person," said Giants receiver Joe Jurevicius, who played with Collins at Penn State. "He conquered a personal problem and made a lot of doubters believe. And now he's got a lot of stragglers trying to jump on that bandwagon."

Sunday, Collins morphed into a combination of Charlie Conerly, Y.A. Tittle and Phil Simms. He threw it short; he flung it far. In the opening 30 minutes of his finest hour, Collins completed 23 passes for 338 yards and four touchdowns. In slightly more than three quarters, he threw for 381 yards and five scores, four to different receivers.

"You don't know what the future holds," Collins said. "My attitude was, I'm going to take care of what I need to take care of today. It's reaffirming when you get to this point and you're trying to do things the right way."

By virtue of his virtuoso, record-setting performance, Collins added his name to the lore that is Giants championship football, from the victorious "sneaker game" at the icy Polo Grounds in 1934 to the franchise's first Super Bowl triumph in '86. As he paraded around Giants Stadium, with his father, brother and girlfriend in the stands feeling as if they just hit the lottery, Collins excitedly hoisted his championship hardware.

He also felt a sense of vindication after years of being a poster boy for Self-Destructors Anonymous.

"You get beat up, and you get beat down," Collins said. "People call you loser and all that kind of stuff. It's going to make you tough, and that's why it made that moment sweet. But you remember things, too."

And for the first time since Giants fans can recall OK, since Simms they have a quarterback who has led them back to the promised land of the Super Bowl.

"He's come so far, handled himself so well," admired Fassel. "There's no limit."

Fassel and the Giants took a chance.

So did Kerry Collins.

He bet on himself, the new Kerry Collins, and won.