The Super Bowl hero walked down the tunnel with no trophy in his
arms or minicams in his face. In fact, all the Super Bowl hero
had done was throw four interceptions, a dozen or so wounded
quail, and one touchdown pass--to the other team.
Yet can you name anybody in Tampa who stood taller than New York
Giants quarterback Kerry Collins, who spent his Super Bowl week
gluing his family back together? All week, while Baltimore Ravens
linebacker Ray Lewis ducked and covered, Collins split open his
soul and laid it on a butcher block for everybody to see. He
stared straight into the jaw of his mistakes and dealt with them
all. Ol' Vodka Collins. The DUI. The quitter. The racist.
He told of how his dad, Pat, split him at 14 from his mother,
Roseanne, and older brother, Patrick, and moved him 30 miles from
their Lebanon, Pa., home, just to enroll him in a high school
with a powerhouse football program. How his parents divorced two
years later. How he mixed up winning with love, and football with
self. How the pressure to win started the drinking, and the
drinking led to hating himself, and the hating himself led to
hurting himself. How the booze sent his career "to rock bottom,"
to the place where nobody wants you, except the NFL, which wants
you to enter rehab.
He walked into that rehab as a psychological yard sale, bitter
toward his father, estranged from his mother, an enemy inside his
own skin. Luckily, he found a dozen others just like him. "There
was the coolest guy in there," Collins remembered. "A Hollywood
agent. We got close. We talked every day."
They both checked out. Within a year the agent had blown his
brains out. Within a year Collins's mind was as straight and true
as his spirals. "I found out," he said, "winning doesn't make you
a good person and losing doesn't make you a bad person."
Within two years he was leading the Giants to the Super Bowl, and
his father, mother and brother to a reunion for the first time in
10 years, courtesy of his Visa card. "It was kind of amazing to
see us all in the same room again," said Patrick, 29, who lives
in San Francisco, "but we were all so happy to see Kerry so
Said Kerry, 28 and single, "Hey, we're not the Brady Bunch, but
we're doing O.K. I'm back to being a son to my mom again, and
that means a lot to me."
For Roseanne, not only was it the first time she was going to be
at one of Kerry's NFL games, but it was also one of the best
weeks of her life. "I sat him next to me and said, 'Don't go
anywhere. Let me just stare at you,'" she said. "I never stopped
being his mom. He just got away from it for a while." Nobody held
any grudges against Kerry's dad either. "He didn't mean any
harm," Kerry decided. "He saw a big kid with a big arm and didn't
want to see that talent wasted."
So Kerry Collins, number 5, went into the biggest Sunday of his
life happy with Kerry Collins, happy with number 5 and happy,
finally, to know the difference. Naturally, he played like a
tranquilized beaver. He missed wide-open receivers. The only
people he hit between the numbers were Ravens--four of them. He
threw 39 times, missing 24 times, for 112 sickly yards. Yeah,
Lewis was the game's MVP, but Baltimore couldn't have done it
Yet in the interview room afterward, there he was again, staring
into the cameras, accepting his starring role as goat. "I sucked
today," he said. "I was prepared. I was ready. I just played
He fingered a water bottle. Two years ago it might've been Jack
Daniel's. "Two years ago, I would've checked out," he said. "I
would've got mad at somebody or something. I would've
self-destructed in some way."
Instead, for the first time in forever, he had a family hug
waiting for him at the end of the tunnel. "Some things in life
don't always work out quite like you planned," said Roseanne,
consoling Kerry. "Super Bowls are one of them."
But Kerry knew that. He'd seen rock bottom, and this wasn't it.
"Nothing can happen on a football field now that can affect me,"
Collins said when the sting was starting to wear off. "My worst
day sober is better than my best day drunk."
Besides, this week Collins gets his driver's license back, two
years after it was taken away for the DUI conviction. He's going
to take off, see if that road is really as smooth and limitless
as his future. "You know where I'm gonna drive?" he said.
"Graceland. Gonna go see Elvis."
This just in: KERRY LIVES!
COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
For the first time in forever, Kerry Collins had a family hug
waiting for him at the end of the tunnel.