Related topics

Saints Claim Kerry Collins

October 15, 1998 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Kerry Collins, saying he never quit on the Carolina Panthers as was reported last week, is starting a new career with the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints, planning to start their third quarterback of the season on Sunday, claimed Collins for a $100 waiver fee after 18 other teams passed.

``All we’re trying to do is find a way to get better,″ said coach Mike Ditka, whose team has lost two straight, including last week’s 31-0 drubbing by San Francisco. ``I hope he can give us some stability and some leadership.″

On Tuesday, Carolina released Collins, who was demoted from starting quarterback to third string last week.

Collins broke his week-long silence Wednesday about his demotion and subsequent release, saying he never told coach Dom Capers that he didn’t want to play.

``That hurt,″ Collins told The Associated Press in a interview from his agent’s office in Newport Beach, Calif. ``That wasn’t what I was trying to get across. At no point did I say that.″

During a conference call Wednesday, Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who goes against Carolina (0-5) on Sunday, called Collins a coward.

``He disgraced the game,″ Sapp said. ``He disgraced Johnny Unitas and all the great quarterbacks who ever played the game.″

Tampa Bay plays the Saints in New Orleans on Oct. 25. New Orleans meets Carolina on Nov. 1 at Charlotte.

Collins said he was happy to get another chance to play, but made it clear that he wasn’t satisfied with the way he left the Panthers, who in 1995 made him the franchise’s first-ever draft pick.

``Everything happened so fast. It just got out of hand, really, and before I knew it, it was too late,″ he said. ``I feel bad about it. Obviously, this is very hard for me. I never said my heart wasn’t in it.″

Instead, Collins said he had what he thought was ``a very good, civil discussion″ with Capers about the Panthers’ winless start and the quarterback’s role in it.

``I told him, `If this is all happening because of me, if it’s my fault, I would understand if you wanted to go in another direction,‴ Collins said. ``I never intended to quit. I never intended to withdraw my services. I basically wanted to feel them out.″

After the meeting, Capers said Collins had told him that he felt partly responsible for the team’s poor start and that he felt his heart was no longer into leading the team. Many of Collins’ teammates heard about that remark and questioned whether he could ever return to lead the offense.

At that point, Collins said, he realized that his days with the Panthers were numbered.

``Once that happened, I knew it was going to be tough. Obviously, I didn’t want it to get to that point,″ he said. ``I’m not a quitter. I never wanted to quit on those guys.″

Ditka said Collins’ situation with Carolina is now history.

``I don’t want to dwell on the negatives. I’m only going to dwell on the fact that he’s a good football player. If you look at pure athletic ability and what he can do and what he’s done, he’s pretty good. He’s big, he’s strong, he throws the ball well. He’s smart. I don’t know what else you can say.″

The Saints will pick up the remaining $746,048 of Collins’ $1.153 million contract. He becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

Ditka said it would have been foolish not to claim Collins, despite his problems. ``He’s got to understand that this is another opportunity in life for him. Everything changes. You wipe off the slate and start again.″

Collins said he’s excited about the new opportunity in New Orleans, which began the season at quarterback with Billy Joe Hobert, who was injured and knocked out for the season in the first game.

On Wednesday, Ditka benched Danny Wuerffel and gave the starting job to Billy Joe Tolliver. Third-stringer Jake Delhomme was cut.

Collins said he hopes joining the Saints will allow him to try to change how other people view him.

``In life all you can do at this point is move on and try and live for the future,″ Collins said. ``Once people understand and kind of hear my side of the story, I would think that at least they wouldn’t have the same opinion because this thing just got out of hand.″