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Leaving the demons to dry out

Since spending eight weeks in alcohol rehab, Kerry Collins has grown to love life off the field.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2001


TAMPA -- It will be remembered as the season he turned around his career and, possibly, quarterbacked the Giants to victory in Super Bowl XXXV. But it's his personal triumph that means more to Kerry Collins.

"I'm very, very proud to be sitting here at the Super Bowl as the quarterback for one of the teams," Collins said Monday night during a 30-minute news conference outside the team hotel. "I'm more proud of things I do day in and day out that make my life what it is today.

"I think I'm a better success story off the field."

With honesty and humility, Collins addressed his series of well-documented off-field incidents and alcohol abuse that stained his career before he joined the Giants.

His addiction to alcohol resulted in his eventual release from the Carolina Panthers and a failed stint with the New Orleans Saints. But Collins traced his problems to his pursuit of a football career at age 14 that split his family and caused his self worth to depend on success on the field.

"I had a hard time separating between Kerry Collins the quarterback and Kerry Collins the person," he said. "That distinction wasn't very clear until I realized I needed take care of myself before I could do anything on the football field."

Collins ran down a list of embarrassing episodes that have defined his career. All of them were related to alcohol, which he began drinking at age 13.

"When I'd drink, I didn't stop. I never had one beer," Collins said.

"Certainly, alcohol was a big part of the problems I had in Charlotte. It caused me to act in an erratic way. As everybody saw, the confusion, the angst, the anger all came to the fore. Alcohol fueled it. I was described as a lost soul, and I think that's true."

On his racial slur while joking with black Carolina teammates after a night of drinking as training camp broke in 1997:

"In my polluted mind, I felt in some sort of way it would bring forth some sense of camaraderie," Collins said. "That incident, unfortunately, gave me a tag I don't believe that I'm all about."

On the October morning he walked into coach Dom Capers office and begged out of the lineup, saying he didn't have the heart to lead the Panthers after an 0-4 start in '98:

"I never wanted to quit on that team," he said. "If I wanted to quit, I wouldn't be standing here today. But I'll say this, I was at a point in my life when I was confused about a lot of things."

On his arrest for drunken driving a day after he was booed when his Saints returned to Charlotte, N.C., to play the Panthers:

Collins said he realized, "I can't control alcohol. Unless I realize that or apply that in my daily life, alcohol will eventually kill me or I'll wind up in jail."

Collins said the NFL ordering him to spend eight weeks in a rehab center before signing with the Giants that changed his life.

"When I entered rehab, I checked Kerry Collins the football player at the door. I took a look at the person," he said.

Collins said he has rebuilt his relationship with his divorced parents and his family will attend Sunday's game. But he encouraged parents to let their children choose their own paths.

"The message it sent was football is more important than anything. The second message it gave me was if everything worked out with football, then everything would be okay," Collins said. "I'm kind of living proof that's not the case."

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