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Kerry Collins, who will be inducted into College Football Hall of Fame, recalls his super time with Giants

Calls his 5-TD performance in 41-0 NFC Championship Game win over Vikings "absolutely the highlight of my pro career, without question." 

Kerry Collins threw as many touchdown passes as

Kerry Collins threw as many touchdown passes as his jersey number in Giants' 41-0 win over Vikings in NFC Championship Game on Jan. 14, 2001. Photo Credit: AP/AMY SANCETTA

FRANKLIN, Tenn. — The first guy who succeeded Kerry Collins as the Giants’ quarterback is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the second one likely is headed there.

But 15 years later, Collins has done just fine for himself, too, thank you.

At 45 and after a pro career that lasted from 1995-2011, he said he has no lingering physical problems from playing and has settled on a 65-acre property near Nashville, where he lives with his wife, Brooke, and teenage daughter.

For several years he pursued country music writing, but that is on hold for now after “the luster kind of came off and it felt too much like I had another job coming out of playing NFL football for 17 years, and that’s not what I want.”

So what does he want? Beyond family activities, including extensive world travel, he said his lifestyle “goes basically like this: golf, tennis — when it’s nice — deer hunting, duck hunting, back to golf . . . A little farming sprinkled in. It’s not too bad.”

This week will bring a reminder that football is what landed him here, and will give him some Hall of Fame love to call his own.

On Tuesday in New York, Collins will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, a nod primarily to the 1994 season, when he led Penn State to a 12-0 record and No. 2 national ranking.

“I’m very honored, very proud to represent Penn State, to represent that team,” he said. “If I went somewhere else, there’s no way, I think, I would be sitting here today. The support I got there, the talent on that team, was phenomenal.”

Collins said several other members of that team should be in the college Hall, including running back Ki-Jana Carter, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. Collins was fourth.

He credited the late Joe Paterno for believing in him and for encouraging Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi to sign him in 1999.

Of the child sex abuse scandal that rocked the school in 2011, Collins said, “I always go back to what [Paterno] said: In hindsight he wished he would have done more. I believe that. I really do.”

Collins came to the Giants during a period of professional and personal turmoil, including a November 1998 arrest for driving while impaired, but the team’s gamble paid off.

He led the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV after the 2000 season — they lost big to the Ravens — and another playoff berth in 2002, which ended with an infamous playoff loss to the 49ers.

“When I look back at my professional career, my time with the Giants was my favorite, and the most special for me,” he said, sitting at his dining room table on Saturday morning.

He cited a time of personal “transition,” a roster loaded with talent and a supportive organization.

“Playing for Mr. [Wellington] Mara was an absolute honor,” he said. “The whole Mara family was incredible to me, and Ernie the same way . . . That to me was the best marriage of what happened on the field and what happened off the field of anywhere I was at in the pros.”

The best memory of all was the 41-0 victory over the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game at Giants Stadium.

“That was absolutely the highlight of my pro career, without question,” said Collins, who threw five touchdown passes that day. “I’ve never experienced that much electricity in a professional stadium before that or since then . . . I’m getting chills thinking about it. It was one of those perfect days.”

Later that year, Collins experienced the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks from a New Yorker’s perspective, including a team visit to Ground Zero that weekend.

“One of the most impactful things of my entire professional career was to be there and see how that community came together in sadness and the resiliency that people showed,” he said.

While in New York this week, the Collins family plans to visit the 9/11 memorial and museum.

In 2004, the Giants landed Eli Manning. Two days later, Collins declined to accept a pay reduction to serve as his mentor, in effect cutting himself. The Giants signed Kurt Warner instead.

“I have zero regrets,” Collins said. “Call it stubborn, call it whatever. They drafted my replacement. I wasn’t going to help them do anything. They wanted to renegotiate my contract. Sorry.”

Does it amaze him that 15 years later, Manning still is at it?

“No, it doesn’t amaze me,” he said. “Eli has more than proven his worth and his ability. And his longevity is not surprising, knowing what kind of player he is. He doesn’t take a lot of unnecessary hits. Smart guy. Just knows the game.

“Hey, listen, the guy is probably a Hall of Famer. Being replaced by somebody like that? . . . ’’

His voice trailed off, but it was clear what he was thinking. No complaints.

“I appreciate not only the chance the organization gave me, but I’ve always felt like Giants fans gave me a chance,” Collins said. “They wanted a good quarterback, too. But at the same time, they gave me a chance. That’s all I could ask for at that point. I’ll always appreciate that. It was a great time up there.”

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