Collins on Right Path

He can throw, lord knows he can wing it. He can lead, in his own understated way. But of all the attributes that have intertwined to thrust Kerry Collins into the prime of his quarterback life, his ability to escape danger with his legs, to be kind, does not rank high on the list.

Funny, then, that Collins knows that remaining grounded is precisely how and why he's overcome so much, just as he understands how fortunate he is to be barking signals for the Giants, awaiting a season of such burgeoning expectation that he matter-of-factly says "I think, without question, I'm sitting on a veritable pot of gold, definitely."

The reason, above all else, why Collins is here when the smart money was bet on his failure, is that he figured out, at last, how to make a stand with his two feet.

"The one thing I've learned about myself," he said, "is balance is very important for me."

Castigation and curiosity accompanied the Giants' gamble on Collins back in 1999, when his football being was in tatters and the purging of his personal demons was in an infant stage. The same player who is now the essence of durability, having started 54 consecutive games, was considered unreliable. The same person who now leads an uneventful private life once took a disgusted look at his own mug and branded himself "a dirtbag." The same quarterback whose howitzer right arm degenerated into a scattershot mess is now hailed by coach Jim Fassel as having no peer when it comes to delivering the ball with heat, on target.

His stay with the Giants has been marked by patience, endurance, sobriety and clarity, yet devoid of the usual trappings associated with ownership of a marquee position. It is the way Collins, 30, prefers this ongoing new chapter of his life to be. Uncluttered in word, deed and, hopefully, thought.

"I just try to stay out of my own way," said Collins, who later this week heads off to his fourth training camp with the Giants. "Sometimes going inside my head is like going behind enemy lines."

The war Collins fought with himself has long since ended, replaced by a tranquil state of being that is apparent for all to see. "He's really at peace," said Jamey Crimmins, a close friend of Collins who, working for After The Game Marketing, tries, often in vain, to promote his buddy.

After crashing and burning in Carolina and New Orleans, Collins in his first year as a full-time starter for the Giants steered his team to an improbable Super Bowl appearance. Last season, he completed more passes (335) for more yards (4,073) than any player in Giants history. In the final six games, he threw 13 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, a surge of greatness the Giants believe can be the norm with the likes of Tiki Barber, Jeremy Shockey, Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard as partners.

Yet Collins remains in and prefers the background. He spent his offseason with Brooke, his wife of slightly more than one year, either at their home in rural Somerset Country, N.J., or else in central North Carolina, on Collins' 820-acre cattle ranch, where his targets are not speedy receivers but wild turkey and quail.

"I'd really rather stay under the radar as much as possible," he said. "It seems to be a good fit for me. That's probably a result of what happened early in my career. It took me a while to learn it."

Crimmins says Collins has turned down "a half million" in potential endorsements since arriving in New York.

"His is a great story," Crimmins said. "Everyone thought he was a pariah and now he's Mother Theresa. But he just wants to play ball and take care of his cows and give to charity."

Collins no longer drinks and admits that his leadership style and charismatic qualities are, at best, quirky. He's proud of his ability to stay on the field, determined to praise rather than criticize teammates and to stay out of social situations that might pull him in dangerous directions.

"I'm hardly on guard at all any more," Collins said. "Things that were uncomfortable to me, things I used to shy away from, even just general interaction with people, that stuff used to wear me out to no end. Now I just accept it as who I am in my world and I've become much more comfortable with it. I don't worry about the decisions I'm going to make any more."