By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Armchair Quarterback
A quarterback with more career passing yards than Johnny Unitas retired on Thursday, and the collective yawn from the pro football world threatened to raise global temperatures.
Kerry Collins was that type of player.
Somehow, Collins managed to start at least one game in each of 16 different NFL seasons without once truly having a big impact.
- He made the Pro Bowl twice in 16 years, both after two of the least Pro Bowl-y seasons in the history of the league. He got to Hawaii despite throwing just 14 touchdown passes in 1996 and 12 in 2008, getting credit for the teams' successes despite doing little to boost them.
- He was a playoff starter after four seasons, and put up a won-loss record of 3-4. This was right on par with a regular season record of 81-96.
- His career passer rating was 73.9 in the regular season, 75.3 in the postseason.
- He didn't once finish in the league's top 10 in passer rating for the regular season – not once! That's almost impossible to do over a 16-year span, but Collins managed it.
And yet, Collins' name will stand as one of the sport's top yardage gainers for a good long time, which is a testament to inflated numbers and the NFL's eternal search for enough franchise signal-callers.
Even when you focus on Collins' four most successful seasons -- the ones that led to the playoffs -- you see a player who never got it done.
1996 Panthers: Collins was in his second year with the expansion Panthers, and finished with a 79.4 passer rating. He started 12 games that year, battled injuries early and kept his starting job although veteran Steve Beuerlein had a 93.5 rating and 3-1 record in his four starts.The Panthers were committed to Collins as the No. 5 overall pick in 1995, and were happy to give him room to grow.
The Panthers rode Dom Capers' defense to the NFC title game, but Collins' 14 starts that year netted only six
weekly passer ratings over 80 (the general "Quality Start"
Collins defender: But he made the Pro Bowl that year!
True. So did Gus Frerotte. Case dismissed.
2000 Giants. New York was the best of a bad NFC that year; the Giants' season point differential (+82) ranked third in the NFC and behind six superior AFC clubs. This showed in the Super Bowl, where the Giants were no competition for Baltimore and Collins played as poorly as any QB ever has in the big game.
Any Giants fan will recognize Collins' numbers with a shudder of revulsion: 15 of 39 (38.5%), 112 yards, 2.87 YPA, 0 TD, 4 INT.
Collins defender: You couldn't expect a great game for Collins against Baltimore's great defense!
No, but but you could certainly expect more than a 7.1 rating.
2002 Giants. This was probably Collins' best season. The 30-year-old finished with a passer rating of 85.4 and started all 16 games, then put up 38 points in the Giants' playoff opener. Unfortunately, the 49ers put up 39 and one of Collins' career highlights wound up coming in a playoff loss ... somewhat fitting, considering the story of his career.
Collins defender: See, he was good that year!
If that's as good as it gets for Collins, it's time for the defense to rest.
2008 Titans. After playing well enough to get a contract in Oakland, Collins was 7-21 as the Raider starter before getting cut. He wound up with Tennessee, where he spent 2006-10 as Vince Young's mentor/competitor.
Turns out he wasn't much of either.
Young was the superior player and probably also the more believable leader, but his flaws undid him. So where was that experienced older veteran to teach him the way? Collins apparently wasn't the guy, and whether blame lied with Young, Collins or Jeff Fisher, clearly Collins gets a failing grade for his mentoring.
When he played, he was mostly a nightmare. The 2008 Titans went 12-3 with Collins as a starter despite his 80.2 passer rating that was well beneath league average. He got credit for his leadership with another bogus Pro Bowl berth, but it was the No. 2 scoring defense and 2,001 combined rushing yards for Chris Johnson/LenDale White that drove the bus.
Collins defender: Winning is the only thing that matters, and he did it.
True, but Collins had so little to do with it that his career as a regular starter ended after his most successful season.
His limitations were easy to see that postseason in a 13-10 loss at home vs. Baltimore (71.6 rating). He spent 2009 and 2010 spelling Young as a starter and doing it poorly (2-11 record), and is now sailing off into the sunset without fanfare.
Collins joins two other recent members of the 40,000 club who've recently hung it up, Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe, but doesn't have the resume or charm of either.
Bledsoe was a gutty, big-armed stud who is still beloved in New England. Testaverde got better with the years, and was as likeable a human being as you'll ever meet.
And Collins was ... entitled as a young player, aloof as an older player, never a fan favorite, never one of the league's best, never a guy you'd see on the highlight reel, never a consistent winner. If he's remembered, it's because of his alcohol flameout in Carolina and horrific Super Bowl performance for New York. Finding Collins jerseys in Carolina, New York or Tennessee is like playing "Where's Waldo?"
Maybe. But he retires with approximately $35 million in earnings under his belt and a spot on more than one key NFL career leaderboard – and that's a hell of a run for a guy who was never good and rarely better than average.
Mamas, make sure your boys grow up to be quarterbacks.