In the 2006 off-season Collins, who was by then married (he and his wife, Brooke, have a four-year-old daughter), retreated to the cattle farm he'd bought in '03 and worked the stock on horseback. Football receded from his thoughts. "Retirement was a possibility," says Collins. "I was burned out from those two years in Oakland." Collins didn't consider an offer until he signed with Tennessee just before the final preseason game. Presumptive starter Billy Volek was at odds with Fisher, and Collins started the first three games before giving way to Young. "When it came down to it," says Collins, "I didn't want my career to end the way it did in Oakland."
COLLINS'S PERSONAL odyssey is inspirational, but it does not explain the return to glory in his mid-30s. It's a challenge to pinpoint a single reason. Collins, who will be a free agent again after the season, is playing at 228 pounds, almost 20 below his weight in the Super Bowl. In 14 years there are few defensive wrinkles he hasn't seen. He embraces Fisher's low-risk approach. "Kerry understands that the odds of converting third-and-13 are not very good," says Fisher. "So don't try to squeeze the ball into a tight window or take a big hit. Put it on the ground, punt and put together a drive the next time." The Titans are very good both in front of Collins (the offensive line) and behind him (the running backs).
If his numbers this season are unimpressive, Collins's leadership has been vital. "It became a matter of owning the team," says Mawae, "and Kerry has done that." Fisher suggested that the Titans might try to work Young back into the lineup as the playoffs approach, but an injured thumb kept him out of practice last week, and he spent another Sunday watching from the sideline. The team belongs to the old man. The old man belongs to the moment.
"Whether it's a touchdown pass, an interception or a Super Bowl, the last one is in the past," says Collins. "And then you always have to prove yourself all over again. This game is about the ability to come back." Here a long, intended pause, letting the years roll silently by. And then, with a sweep of his arms that takes in the length and breadth of his past: "From whatever."