Strong reaction to Collins' return

Again, Panthers fan John Pace waited for Kerry Collins.

Last season, Pace went to a Charlotte pub after a game, saw Collins, and asked the Carolina quarterback to sign his No. 12 jersey.

Sure enough, Collins penned his name across the top of the “2.”

On Sunday, Pace, a Hendersonville resident, slung that jersey -- now sporting a massive “X” -- over the wall behind the New Orleans Saints’ bench and joined thousands of Carolina fans who spewed venom toward their former hero, who was picked up by the Saints last month after being waived by the Panthers.

The fans called Collins a cancer, a quitter, and a traitor. One small girl in the stands behind the Saints’ bench even shrieked, “Hey, Kerry: Do the chicken dance!”

“I never dreamed it’s be like this,” Pace said. “The thing that’s so silly about it is if you look at all the games, nobody ever pointed a finger at Kerry Collins. Then all of a sudden, he was saying he wanted to quit. It doesn’t make sense.”

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson once expected Collins to lead the club to the Super Bowl title, but the glow of Collins’ early seasons dimmed in 1997.

Then came Oct. 7 of this year, when Carolina coach Dom Capers said Collins told him his heart wasn’t into his job. Collins was waived on Oct. 13.

Collins didn’t play Sunday and didn’t speak to the media. But many in the crowd of 62,514 watched his every move during the Panthers’ 31-17 win.

A few, such as Sheri Burton of Winston-Salem, were supportive of the quarterback. Burton said she wore her Collins jersey “to irritate people.”

But thousands were like 30-year-old Bruce Brown, a Charlotte resident who called Collins “a phony.”

“He has no guts,” Brown aid.

Panthers fans mocked Collins for his alleged drinking problems, with one sign reading: “Vodka Collins on Bourbon Street!”

And they jeered him for giving up on the team. Collins had denied he told Capers his heart wasn’t into being Carolina’s starting quarterback, but Panthers fans weren’t forgetting the line.

One fan held a sign that read: “Hey, Kerry, the Tin Man doesn’t have a heart, either. But he never quit on Dorothy!”

Another fan struck a pacifier in his mouth.

Collins rarely showed emotion. His blue eyes shone with excitement before kickoff, but Collins spent most of the game with his arms folded in front of him or clasped behind him.

He kept his fans behind his back when one fan screamed, “This is the best place for you in Ericcson Stadium, baby! On the bench!”

Collins never turned when Panthers fans chanted a mocking “Kerry! Ker-RY! KERRY! as Saints quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver floundered against the Carolina defense.

Collins ran off the field at half-time and gave a quick wave with both hands to the crowd, as if encouraging them to be louder.

And at game’s end, he sprinted across the field to hug Steve Beuerlein, who replaced Collins as the Panthers’ starting quarterback.

“How you doing?” Beuerlein asked as the cameras swarmed.

“Good,” Collin shot back.

“Hope things get going in the right direction for you,” Beuerlein said.

Panthers tight end Wesley Walls shook Collins’ hand, linebacker Kevin Greene leaned in to say, “God bless!” and linebacker Michael Barrow urged him to find God.

Collins hugged guard Frank Garcia, and as Collins turned to head away, Garcia yelled: “KC! KC!”

When Collins turned, Garcia made a telephone with his thumb and pinkie and said, “Give me a call sometime!”

Collins winked and nodded.

A security guard then put his arm around Collins’ waist, and Collins ran toward the exit, waving with his right hand amid boos and jeers of fans.

In the Saints’ locker room, Coach Mike Ditka wasn’t in much of a mood to talk about Collins.

When asked if it crossed his mind to use Collins on Sunday, the coach said: “I don’t have a mind.”

Ditka said last week that Collins probably would start against St. Louis on Nov. 15, but the situation remained murky after the loss to the Panthers.

“We’ll see. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Ditka said.
Nov. 2,98