July 07, 2011
After contributing to five teams over 15 years, Kerry Collins has decided to call it a career. Collins played in two Pro Bowls, two NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl, and with a stat line most other quarterbacks in NFL history could be jealous of.
They're not quite Hall of Fame numbers, but they're not as far away as you might think. Collins ranks ninth all time in passes completed and 11th in career passing yards, ahead of guys like Johnny Unitas, Jim Kelly, Phil Simms and Steve Young. He's 29th on the all-time touchdown list, ahead of Simms, Troy Aikman and Joe Namath.
I'm not arguing for Collins as a Hall of Famer or anything, but he's definitely carved out a very unique place for himself in football history. It goes far beyond the numbers, too. His career was one giant comeback that so many young quarterbacks could learn from.
Kerry Collins(notes) sets a very important example for any player who could use a career redemption. There's no better example of how to reclaim a lost career.
A big, prototypical quarterback coming out of Penn State, Collins was drafted fifth overall in 1995 -- the first player ever drafted by the Carolina Panthers. In just his second year in the league and the second year of the Panthers existence, Collins led them to the NFC Championship game, a remarkable accomplishment.
At the same time, though, Collins let his drinking get out of control. He battled alcoholism, and for a few years there, alcoholism was winning. At a party with teammates, Collins was drunk and thought it was OK to use a racial slur as a joke. It was not.
"The guys were talking to each other that way, and I was trying to be funny and thought I could do it, too. I was so upset by it. It was bad judgment. I could have been labeled a racist for the rest of my career. I had to live with the way I used that word with a teammate. Extremely poor judgment. I was naïve to think I could use that word in any context."
So Collins gave himself that label to deal with. And if "racist" wasn't bad enough, there was also "quitter." In 1998, he told Carolina coach Dom Capers that his heart wasn't into playing and that he'd understand if he was benched. Instead, he was released.
He ended up with the Saints, but it wasn't long before he was arrested for drunk driving after a game, as it happened, against the Panthers. The NFL ordered him into rehab, and the Saints released him after the 1998 season.
It was Ernie Accorsi, then general manager of the New York Giants, who gave Collins another shot. Accorsi placed a huge amount of faith in Collins when no one else had any, and Collins repaid him by getting himself sober and leading the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV.
The NFC Championship game that year was a Kerry Collins highlight reel. The Vikings went in with the a game plan of "Let's make Kerry Collins beat us." Collins obliged, tuning the Vikings up with 28-of-39 passing for 381 yards and five touchdowns.
After the 2003 season, Collins' play had leveled off a bit, and the Giants were ready to let him go. They did, and he ended up with the Oakland Raiders, as any once-troubled, highly talented, way overpaid, past-his-prime player should. In Oakland, he did not have much success.
In 2006, he signed with the Titans, mostly as a caddy for Vince Young(notes). But Young was injured in the first game of the 2008 season, and Collins had another magic run in him. It didn't last very long in the playoffs, but under Collins, the Titans went 13-3 and were the top seed in the AFC playoffs.
When you think about the quarterback position, and how common it is for a high draft pick to fail in the league because of character issues, it puts Collins in a pretty remarkable perspective. Collins had any mental problems a young quarterback could have, and worse -- an ego out of control, alcoholism, depression, released by the team that drafted him, labeled a racist and a quitter -- and he still came back and had a noteworthy NFL career.
Imagine JaMarcus Russell(notes) staging an NFL comeback right now and taking a team to the Super Bowl. Imagine if Ryan Leaf had bounced back in the sixth year of his career and gotten to a Super Bowl. That's the kind of comeback Kerry Collins mounted here, maybe even against longer odds than those guys.
To do that must take a man with a gargantuan fighting spirit. With the pressure these guys are under, it would've been the easiest thing in the world for Collins to crawl under a rock and just leave the game behind. He didn't, though. He first humbled himself completely and totally, and was willing to keep subjecting himself, over and over again, to the judging eyes of fans and competitors who thought he was a bad quarterback, racist, quitter and loser.
He endured that, and came out on the other side as a respected veteran with a playing resume that few can match. He had to fight like a banshee to get there, but if nothing else, he's made damn sure that the label "quitter" could never be applied again.
Congratulations on a great career, Kerry Collins. You earned every bit of it, and I hope that in the future, young quarterbacks who struggle early on can learn from what you did.
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