The picture holds a prominent spot in what Kerry Collins calls his “little man cave’’ at his home in Nashville, Tenn.
“I’ve got it front and center, you bet,’’ Collins told The Post on Tuesday.
It is a famed shot Collins treasures, revealing a professional milestone — his greatest NFL moment. He is smiling, ear-to-ear, and so is his head coach, Jim Fassel. They are together on the field at the old Giants Stadium, the night of Jan. 14, 2001, as triumphant as a quarterback and coach could possibly be after the Giants thrashed the Vikings 41-0 in the NFC Championship. Collins had thrown five touchdown passes, and he and Fassel were basking in the afterglow.
All these years later, Collins recalled that joy amid the sadness he felt upon hearing Fassel on Monday night died at the age of 71 after suffering a heart attack near his Las Vegas home.
“I remember talking to him right after the game, and there was just this mutual appreciation of, hey, we did it,’’ Collins said. “He would say to me, ‘People come into each other’s lives at the right time.’ He was like, ‘I needed a quarterback, you needed to get an opportunity,’ and it couldn’t have worked out any better. That was the culmination of it all. It was a special moment that I had with him.’’
Collins returned home late Monday night after accompanying his 17-year-old daughter, Riley, to a tennis tournament in Mobile, Ala. He woke up the next morning to learn his greatest NFL advocate had passed away, so unexpectedly.
“What awful news,’’ Collins said. “Just awful. Jim and I really got along great. No one did any more for me in my professional career than Jim Fassel. I owe him a big, great debt of gratitude for giving me the opportunity to come to the Giants and revive my career. It’s really sad, just an extremely sad day all around for me.’’
Collins was a strong-armed product of Penn State, taken No. 5 overall by the expansion Panthers in the 1995 NFL Draft. By 1999, he had flamed out in Carolina and New Orleans and needed a fresh football start. The Giants gave it to him, and soon enough, he was leading them to a Super Bowl.
A former quarterback and considered a guru at coaching the position, Fassel proved to be exactly what Collins needed. The greatest fixes Fassel made: He adjusted Collins’ drop in the pocket, making his hands and arms more active to help him flow into his throws. Mentally, Fassel did not try to reconstruct everything in Collins’ head. He told him if he could eliminate 20 percent of the truly bad plays it would lead to the desired efficiency.
Collins and Fassel were both gone from the Giants after the 2003 season, but the two stayed in close contact. Whenever there was a milestone in his life, Collins anticipated and received a call from his former head coach. When Collins’ career was resurrected with the Titans, Fassel made sure to check in and congratulate his former player. When Collins in 2018 was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, Fassel reached out, on cue.
“I always thought of him as a friend,’’ Collins, 48, said.
“Ex-quarterbacks kind of have this, it’s a different thing. That was special for us. The fact he liked quarterbacks, he was a quarterback, he knew how we thought. I’m sure I had probably a different bond than a lot of guys had with Jim, on a lot of different levels. Those are just fond memories I’ll always appreciate.’’