I had a very interesting phone conversation this week with Kerry Collins, the first draft pick in the Panthers' franchise history. Collins is now 37 -- his NFL career is exactly the same age as the Panthers (both entering season No.16).
I'll be writing about this interview for Saturday's newspaper and online (UPDATE: the column is posted here), as Collins and his Tennessee Titans come to Charlotte for Week 3 of the exhibition season to face Carolina. Collins, the No.2 Titans QB now behind Vince Young, will likely play in the second half. He was the Panthers' primary quarterback from 1995 through the first quarter of the 1998 season, leading Carolina to the NFC Championship game in 1996 and making the Pro Bowl.
Here are a few highlights from the upcoming interview:
-- Collins said he still spends a lot of time in North Carolina, since he owns a 1,580-acre cattle ranch in Troy, N.C. "I've got a couple of horses I mess around with there," Collins said, "but the main thing is we've got about 500 head of cattle." Collins employs four ranchers full-time at Blue Q Ranch (read why it's called that in my column).
-- Collins always had a wonderful arm (I'd say it was the strongest in Panthers history). He says at 37 he still believes he throws the ball as well as he ever did and that he's been very fortunate from an injury standpoint -- he said he has "nothing nagging" on a day-to-day basis, which is remarkable for any 16-year NFL vet.
-- Collins said his memories of his time in Charlotte are "mostly pleasant" and that he doesn't harbor any resentment toward anyone here.
I go back with Collins a long way, having first interviewed him on his USAirways flight from New York to Charlotte on Draft Day 1995. We got up and stood in the back and he started telling me about his time in Penn State and his complicated relationship with his father. I've always found him a fascinating guy, even when he was in his rebellious stage.
Kerry and I have had our ups and downs. He once ripped me in an extended interview on a local radio station -- he believed I had taken some of his remarks out of context about the Panthers' offensive problems. But when he was in New York, having resurrected himself with the New York Giants on the way to the Super Bowl, he granted me an extended interview in New Jersey (this was 10 years ago) to discuss the problems he had in Charlotte in greater depth than he ever had previously.
Bottom line: It's been a pleasure watching Collins grow up, and he really has. Panther teammates used to question his dedication because of his heavy off-field partying. Now Collins is a stable NFL veteran with a wife, a daughter in the first grade in Nashville and a hankering to write country music. He has truly matured, and I hope when he runs onto the field Saturday night he gets cheered rather than booed.
At this point in his life, he deserves that.