Back for old times' sake


POSTED: Thursday, February 05, 2009

Opportunities can be found in the rarest of circumstances.

Just ask Kerry Collins.

A backup with only four starts over the previous two seasons, the Tennessee quarterback took advantage of an early-season injury to starter Vince Young to make his second Pro Bowl squad in 12 years, overcoming a career that's seen plenty of highs and lows.

“;To be here, especially after really starting off the year not expecting to play very much at all, to make the Pro Bowl has a lot of fairy-tale qualities to it,”; Collins said.

Collins' first appearance in 1997 was just another in a long list of awards for the heralded quarterback out of Penn State.

Winner of the Maxwell and Davey O'Brien awards his senior season, Collins became the first player ever chosen by the Panthers in the annual college draft.

The expansion Panthers drafted Collins as the foundation for the future, but it only took two seasons before Collins had them in the NFC Championship Game. He was rewarded with his first Pro Bowl appearance that year and gave no signs that it would take more than a decade to return.

“;I definitely appreciate it a lot more now,”; Collins said after waiting 12 years to make it back. “;I understand what it's about to be here and what it takes to get here.”;

Things began to unravel for Collins after that first Pro Bowl experience. He got into a fight with a teammate at a bar before the next season and was released four games into the '98 season. Less than two months after being picked up by the New Orleans Saints, he was arrested on drunk driving charges.

He sought treatment for his alcoholism after signing with the New York Giants, where he resurrected his career and led the team to a Super Bowl in 2001.

But once the Giants traded for Eli Manning in 2004, he was back on the market and a disappointing run in Oakland left him on the verge of retirement in '06. But he wasn't ready to give in.

“;This is a crazy business and I never lost confidence in myself,”; Collins said. “;I felt that given the opportunity, I was going to go in there and do a good job.”;

As Young's backup in Tennessee, Collins bided his time in case another opportunity presented itself. It came when Young went down with an injury in the season opener this year. Collins went on to lead the Titans to 10 straight wins and an AFC-best 13-3 record, earning home-field advantage in the playoffs.

“;I was very fortunate to have a really good team around me,”; Collins said. “;All the pieces were in place and for whatever reason my presence in there helped us have a really successful year.”;

Tennessee clinched home field with a 31-14 rout of Pittsburgh in Week 16. But the magic didn't carry over to the postseason, and after losing in the divisional round to Baltimore, Collins had to watch that same Steelers team go on to win the Super Bowl.

“;It was obviously very tough after the (Baltimore) game, but watching Pittsburgh do what they did and to know that we felt that we had as good a shot as anybody going into the playoffs made it tough,”; Collins said. “;You just wonder, 'What if?' “;

Collins doesn't have a contract for next year with the Titans, but is hopeful a deal can get done so the 14-year veteran can have one last chance at an elusive ring.

“;I'd love to be back in Tennessee,”; Collins said. “;I feel like I'm a part of something really good.”;