Back in the 1970’s Bum Phillips was being interviewed when he was asked to describe Hall of Fame Coach Don Shula. Bum in that southern drawl he had looked up and said “Don Shula can take his’n and beat your’n and then take your’n and beat his’n.” Meaning he could formulate a game plan and tailor it to the strength of the players he has no matter the opponent. A trait also shared with Bronco new Head Coach Sean Payton.
His reputation turning around quarterbacks and building a winning culture is why he came at such a hefty sum. Denver giving up another 1st and 2nd round draft pick to New Orleans to trade for his services. Many pundits are looking at what he did to turn Drew Brees career around and using this as a barometer. The Chancellor of Football has another subject in mind, mirroring what he has to do with Russ.
Kerry Collins was the 1st draft choice of the Carolina Panthers who never fulfilled his potential. The Panthers did make the NFC Championship his 2nd season in 1996, but that was a team fueled by NFL Defensive player of the year Kevin Greene, a suffocating defense and a balanced attack. Collins eventually flamed out throwing more interceptions (36) than touchdowns (23) the following 2 seasons.
After a drunk driving incident and the NFL sending him to rehab for alcohol abuse, he also had a racial incident with teammate Mushin Muhammad. Things internally went from bad to worse when he requested a trade and was released by Coach Dom Capers. Citing he had quit on the team. He was even let go after signing on and finishing the season with Mike Ditka’s Saints. These guys were desperate for a QB having traded their entire draft class for RB Ricky Williams.
This was the 1st ever draft choice of the Carolina Panther franchise who hit rock bottom. Five years after being selected he had two losing teams that didn’t want him and his reputation publicly and in NFL locker rooms couldn’t be worse.
Enter Sean Payton.
The Giants sign him in 99 to back up Kent Graham and he did see some action. He conquered his alcohol demons and began to play quarterback at a level greater than he had at any point in his career. He became the starter in 2000 and led the Giants to a 12-4 record and home field advantage for the best record in the conference. Collins was the NFL’s comeback player of the year. How much had he improved going into those playoffs?
- Collins 1997: 200 of 381 (52.5%) 2,124 yds 11TDs 21 ints
- Collins 2000: 311 of 529 (58.8%) 3,610 yds 22TDs 13 ints
All of this was happening under the watchful eye of a young Offensive Coordinator in Sean Payton. Through his tutelage Collins had grown from what many considered a game manager to one who could win shootouts if the Giants needed him to. He had never shown this type of promise at his prior stops. So this reclamation project at quarterback and young Offensive Coordinator headed into the 2000 playoffs. Experts were calling them the worst team to ever garner home field advantage. There were sexier choices like The Greatest Show on Turf Rams or the high flying Minnesota Vikings.
After a solid but unspectacular win in a playoff win against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sean Payton called his greatest game of his career in the next where he and Kerry Collins stunned the football world in the NFC Championship Game. A game where they were underdogs at home.
Collins went 23 of 34 for 338 yds and 4TDs in the 1st half alone. All of these were NFC/NFL championship records Joe Montana, Kurt Warner nor any could touch. His 4 1st half TDs broke the record of Sid Luckman. Yes, he broke a 57 year old record that had stood since 1943. He finished with 381 yards and didnt play from the midway point of the 3rd quarter up 41-0. His record of 381 yards stood until Matt Ryan broke it in the 2012 NFC Title Tilt.
Did I say the greatest game of Sean Payton’s career? In this historian’s eyes yes absolutely. Even with his Super Bowl XLIV win in tow because no one saw that type of performance coming. It put Sean Payton and Kerry Collins on the map for good. Payton through this experience where he led the Giants offense for 3 years making the postseason twice and his subsequent stop in Dallas primed him for his Saints tenure.
He then went on to directing Drew Brees to a Hall of Fame career, guiding Jameis Winston to a 5-2 record before injury and still winning with Tedy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill.
He has the pedigree and ability to formulate game plans and bring the best out of Russell Wilson. Especially coming from a position where Russ needs to rehab his reputation after an atrocious season. His lows aren’t to the degree that Kerry Collins were but now it should be football, X’s and O’s and all that fringe off the field nonsense takes a huge backseat. He’s got the quarterback whisperer now and the Denver Broncos should be off and running.
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