Record aside, Collins is very thankful

In search of cranberry sauce, Kerry Collins pushes his grocery cart through A&P Supermarket. Cranberry sauce. ... Cranberry...

There it is.

Next up, the candy aisle. Collins decided long ago that maybe no meal -- and certainly no Thanksgiving -- is complete without candy. So he picks up dozens of bags of Hershey's Kisses and candy bars.

How about breakfast cereal? Sure, Collins says. And boxes of Rice Krispies and Raisin Bran are added to the bundles of food and drink.

This is how Collins and his wife, Brooke, spent Tuesday evening, filling 30 laundry baskets with food for needy families so they, too, could enjoy Thanksgiving feasts.

"We're just fortunate and we're glad we can help people who are less fortunate," Brooke said. "This is our tradition now. We wouldn't miss it."

Collins, the Giants quarterback, and his teammates returned from Monday night's 19-13 loss at Tampa, Fla., around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday. Later that afternoon, Kerry and Brooke -- who also made the trip to Tampa and flew home commercially Tuesday morning -- arrived in Woodbridge to do their arranged shopping.

One of his agents, Jamey Crimmins of After the Game Marketing, had given Collins the opportunity to skip the personal appearance and just pick up the tab, which totaled $1,284.15.

Collins and his wife wouldn't hear of it, even if Collins did manage just three hours of restless sleep after a defeat that dropped the Giants to a frustrating 4-7 on the season.

"In our world, it's very easy to get wrapped up in wins and losses, but you've always got to try to remember what's really important," Collins said. "Obviously, being in the position I'm in, I'm able to do these kinds of things and I feel like it's important to do, especially around the holidays.

"That's always been a soft spot for me."

Collins has provided such Thanksgiving meals since he began his NFL career with Carolina in 1995. It is one of the many benevolent acts Collins does regularly. Since he joined the Giants in 1999, his charitable contributions total more than $1 million.

Before Christmas, he will take perhaps 30 underprivileged children to a store and give them hundred of dollars apiece to go shopping for gifts. There are other, more personal acts of kindness to individuals and families that Collins will not talk about or allow to be publicized.

"Somebody told me once that the best favors you do are the ones nobody knows about," Crimmins said. "That's how Kerry operates."

To provide today's meals, Crimmins works with a school to identify those in need -- this year it was Avenel Middle School in Woodbridge -- and organizes the event. His 13-year-old son, Matthew, makes the grocery list and gives each shopper a different assignment.

Brooke, who is due to give birth to the couple's first child in 11 weeks, was given the task of picking out 30 loaves of bread, so she so wouldn't have a heavy load to lift.

"I think I could handle more than that," she said, laughing.

When Kerry and Brooke were married in March 2002, he inherited an extended family that includes her parents, two sisters, brothers-in-law, a niece and nephews and a host of aunts, uncles and cousins.

It was different for him.

"She has a very close extended family," he said. "My parents are divorced. My (only) brother's out in California. But we had our Thanksgivings and they were great -- none of us would say that they weren't.

"And I've always been around people who've taken a step back on Thanksgiving and really been thankful for what they have."

Collins, who will turn 31 next month, has never been more thankful. He is on the verge of becoming a father for the first time. He and Brooke have chosen to name their daughter Riley.

Yes, Collins has thrown 15 interceptions and 12 touchdowns and the Giants are almost certain to miss the playoffs. But after his early NFL years when his career was nearly derailed by alcohol and related troubles, Collins is personally in a good place.

"I'm so much more connected with things that are meaningful, so much more aware of where I've come from and where I am," he said. "It just makes me that much more appreciative of where my life is. I always remind myself of where I've been."

And of where he is going, particularly as he anticipates fatherhood. Collins has hung a copy of the baby's sonogram picture in his locker at Giants Stadium.

"I wanted that reminder every day," he said. "It's a kind of happiness that I've never felt before. A lot of guys have pictures of their kids in their locker. Now I know why they do it."