Komeback Kerry's Da Man

He didn't sneak up on the football world as anybody's phenom, the way Chad Pennington did a year ago. He was thrown to the wolves, asked to be The Messiah, and the wolves swallowed him whole.

Now, all these years after the booze and the immaturity, there is gray in his beard and fatherhood in his near future and a New York football team to call his own.

Komeback Kerry is The Leader of the Giants.

And the Giants are thrilled.

"I talk to Kerry a little bit," Michael Strahan said. "It's not like I really get a chance to talk to Kerry a lot. But I hope he understands how much I do appreciate the fact he is the quarterback, 'cause I've been here in times when we've been lean.

"Kerry's one of the top three quarterbacks in the league, hands down. Watching him throw the ball the other night when he can sit in that pocket, I don't think anybody can thread the needle the way he does with the velocity and with the confidence. I think he's phenomenal. He took us to the Super Bowl two, three years ago and he's only gotten better since then. So, I'm grateful he's here."

He plays every week, takes every meaningful snap, makes every throw.

"I wouldn't trade him for anyone," Tiki Barber said. "He knows how to motivate us. When things are going wrong or even when things are going well, he stays even keeled, which is what you need, you need a calming force sometimes in the huddle."

He is 30, and primed to become one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks.

"I definitely believe that," Jim Fassel said. "It just seems like he has as much confidence as he's ever had."

Collins is 31-24 (.564) as Giant starting quarterback, which means if he goes 17-8, he will have a better winning percentage than Phil Simms (95-64, .597).

He will be a free agent after the 2004 season. There have been only casual talks to date.

"I definitely want him to stay," Fassel said. "I made this comment to him when he came in here. I said, 'It's interesting sometimes how two people walk into each other's lives and they need each other.' I needed a quarterback. And he needed to develop as a quarterback."

GM Ernie Accorsi took a gamble, and won big.

"He didn't walk in here with an attitude," Fassel said of Collins. "He didn't walk in here and try to tell everybody, 'Listen, what happened to me in the past is not true.' He just came in and started working."

Collins has started 54 straight games for Big Blue.

"I think now he's comfortable with everything," Amani Toomer said. "He knows that everybody on the team believes in him. In other situations that he was in, I know he felt like he kinda got sandbagged by some other people. Now I think that he knows that everybody's behind him, and that's all you can ask for as a quarterback, a team that's gonna be behind you."

Collins has learned to play worry-free.

"They don't hang us if we lose games or if we throw interceptions, you know?" he said. "And I'm sort of at a point now where I'm more confident, so I enjoy it more. I enjoy Sundays now more than I ever have."

He will find out soon whether he and wife Brooke have a son or daughter due February 13.

"Life's good," Collins said.

Personal goals?

"First of all, play well enough for us to win a Super Bowl," he said. "As far as numbers go, I'd like my efficiency rating to be at least 85, close to 90. I'd like to get more touchdowns. I had 19 last year. I'd like to get at least 20-25, somewhere in that range. As far as yards, I don't worry about yards."

There are no more AA meetings. He is proud of himself, and should be.

"But I'm humbled at the same time," Collins said. "I remember where I've been. And I look at where I'm at. I know what it took to get here."

He would love to stay here. "I don't want to play anywhere else," Collins said.
Aug 21 2003