Kerry Collins's plan was simple: He would transform himself from
Joe Quarterback into a regular Joe. He would pack four pairs of
pants, a few shirts and sweaters, and only whatever else was
essential into an oversized backpack. He would fly to Copenhagen,
take a train to Stockholm, then go on to Berlin, Prague, Budapest
and wherever. He would stay in youth hostels. At many stops he
wouldn't be able to speak the language, but that was O.K. When
anybody asked, he would say he was traveling abroad after grad
That's exactly how his eight weeks of European travel, from late
January until mid-March, worked out. "You know how great it was?"
Collins, the embattled fourth-year Panthers quarterback said last
week at the team's training camp in Spartanburg, S.C. "A couple
of times I got to be friendly with people. I told them I was an
NFL quarterback, and they were like, 'What's that?'"
A trek through Europe and a new offensive system have
(Scott K. Brown)
What makes a high-profile athlete want to blend into the scenery?
For Collins, it was the desire to put behind him as bad a season
as any NFL quarterback has had of late. To recap: On the final
day of last year's training camp, Collins reportedly directed
racial slurs at two teammates. Shortly thereafter, it was
reported that other Carolina players said he partied too much. In
a preseason game his jaw was shattered on a vicious hit by
Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski, and Collins missed the first
two regular-season games. He never regained the form he exhibited
in steering the Panthers to the '96 NFC Championship Game. He
threw 21 interceptions and only 11 touchdown passes and wound up
as the lowest-rated quarterback in the league.
Then, a month after the season, Collins learned that because of
his poor performance the team would not be paying him the $6
million bonus that would have activated the final three years of
his contract. As a result Collins became a restricted free agent.
He received little interest from other teams around the league,
and the Panthers were able to retain him with a one-year, $1.15
Collins won't discuss the racial allegations, but he and coach
Dom Capers think the broken jaw was the biggest factor in his
disappointing season anyway. "When I got hit," Collins says, "it
felt like my face exploded." Four titanium plates were inserted
into his jaw, which was broken in two places. By the time he
returned to action five weeks later, he had lost 12 poundsand
"I don't think Kerry ever got his confidence back to where he
could stand in there like he always had," Capers says.
Collins agrees. "I was a prototype pocket guy who could take any
hit, and now I'd watch film of myself and think, Who the heck is
that guy?" he recalls. "That was a devastating injury. I didn't
feel human until all the metal came out two months ago."
At 6'5" and 243 pounds, Collins is hardly someone you expect to
see directing the West Coast offense, yet in the off-season
Capers imported Packers receivers coach Gil Haskell to be his
offensive coordinator. Not long after spending St. Patrick's Day
in Dublin, Collins was in Haskell's office, introducing himself.
He has been a frequent visitor since.
Collins says that the European vacation was just the break he
needed and he's ready to get back to being Joe Quarterbackand
enjoying the nightlife. "I won't live in a bubble," he says. "I'm
25. I'm single. I like to go out, and I will go out."
Issue date: August 10, 1998