- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2006

Andre Collins was drafted in the third round by the Redskins out of Penn State in 1990, an outside linebacker from Linebacker U, and became an immediate starter on a playoff team. In his second season, he was the leading tackler on a defense that helped the Redskins win their third Super Bowl. In his third year, the Redskins again advanced to the postseason.

“I think we won almost 40 games,” he recalled. (It was actually 38.) “I thought, ‘This is a piece of cake. I’ll be in the playoffs every year and maybe the Super Bowl.’ Once you taste that, you want that every season.”

The taste later soured. Coach Joe Gibbs left, replaced by defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon in 1993. The Redskins went 4-12, costing Petitbon his job. In came Norv Turner, the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive coordinator.

“That was very uneasy for the Redskins,” Collins said, noting Turner’s past employer.

Collins, who now works for the NFL Players Association here in the District, was a 10-year NFL man. He followed assistant coach Larry Peccatiello to Cincinnati in 1994 and later played for Chicago and Detroit before retiring in 1999. But he never again played in the postseason. As with so many ex-Redskins players, 1991 represents the high point of Collins’ career, an extraordinary season that produced extraordinary memories.

“What stands out the most for me was that there was a real unselfishness nature to that defense,” he said. “Everyone played. Everyone had a role. We had a lot of guys on that defense that could make a play. We had a whole team full of playmakers. This was a team that knew how to get to the ball and get their hands on the ball and make things happen.”

There were a few stars, such as cornerback Darrell Green and defensive end Charles Mann, to be sure. But there also were supposedly lesser-lights like Tim Johnson and Fred Stokes, Jumpy Geathers and Bobby Wilson, an aging Monte Coleman and Martin Mayhew, the “other” cornerback who played in Green’s shadow. The other outside linebacker, Wilber Marshall, had a terrific season but still wasn’t the player he was five years earlier, when he helped anchor perhaps the best defense ever with the 1985 Chicago Bears.

“I think on a lesser team some of them would have been stars,” Collins said. “But the way Richie built his defense, it was about team defense and having a responsibility and understanding your role. Guys resigned themselves to that fact and accepted with big hearts the role they would play. If you turned him loose, Wilber would have had 15 sacks.”

Collins also wanted something else to be known: Unlike Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain, the 1985 Bears or other famed units, the Redskins’ defense might not have had a catchy nickname nor a bullying reputation, but it could, at times, be just as dominant.

“You don’t think about our defense being nasty and having a lot of attitude, but we did have a lot of attitude,” he said. “You’d see a bunch of guys breaking their necks to get to the ballcarrier and not just getting there but five or six guys at a time. We didn’t even look human. That’s how aggressive our defense was.”

The defense was so aggressive that it totaled 50 sacks and 41 turnovers.

A self-described “student of the game,” Collins said he always will value how getting to play for coaches like Gibbs, Petitbone and Peccatiello “added to my football education.”

Collins lives with his family in Arlington and roots for the Redskins, even now, during the tough times. He said he is a Redskin for life.

“The love the fans have for the Redskins is really special, and it’s really special to be a player here,” he said. “And that’s why a lot of players never leave the metropolitan area.”

After managing the emergency room staff at Virginia Hospital Center (formerly Arlington Hospital), Collins returned to the game two years ago as director of the NFLPA’s Retired Players Department, coordinating the 36 nationwide chapters of NFL alumni.

Those chapters, in addition to providing a valuable networking tool, provide “an opportunity to stay visible and be celebrated in their communities,” he said. “It’s a benefit to still be able to be involved with the game they dedicated their lives to,” he said. “There’s some emotional value there.”

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