- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Wikipedia entry for Redskins quarterback Todd Collins lists the following under the section devoted to career highlights and awards: “No notable achievements.”

That’s quite an achievement.

The lack of notable accomplishment would be understandable if he were, say, a long snapper who played in the NFL for 12 seasons. But a quarterback who has been in the league for 12 years? I doubt there ever has been another quarterback who was in the league that long and didn’t have at least one notable achievement.

Heck, even Gus Frerotte made one Pro Bowl — though some might say his most notable achievement was injuring himself by ramming his head into a padded cement wall to celebrate a touchdown in a 7-7 tie against the Giants.

Collins barely had a chance to do even that. In nine of his previous 12 years in the league, Collins didn’t throw a touchdown pass. In five of those seasons, he didn’t throw a pass at all.

Yet here he is, on the verge of filling out that “notable achievements” entry. Collins took over when starting quarterback Jason Campbell got hurt and led the Redskins to four straight wins and a playoff appearance against the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday.

In those four games, Collins threw five touchdown passes and no interceptions and transformed this team from a sad and confused squad to the hottest team in the NFC.

So why wasn’t Collins banging his head against the wall every game he sat and watched from 1998 to 2006? Other quarterbacks around the league — some clearly not as good — did start and did have something to show that might qualify as a notable achievement. Why not Collins?

Year after year — mostly in Kansas City — Collins sat and watched NFL games like the rest of us: as a spectator.

With each game, an opportunity passed — and so did time. All of a sudden, Collins is 36 years old and at the end of a career that to date has not been notable.

Sure, he now has a chance to leave his mark, to fill his competitive soul in his role as the Redskins’ quarterback.

But how could that competitive soul not burn with anger and frustration because of the years spent sitting on the bench, the whole seasons in which he never even got into a game?

Like Joe Gibbs said, “It’s hard to imagine somebody playing that good with that little of an opportunity the last 10 years.”

It’s even harder to imagine a competitive athlete living with that.

How could Collins watch lousy quarterbacks like Tommy Maddox, Shane Matthews, Ray Lucas, Tim Couch and a list of other failures start while he just sat on the bench?

Perhaps Brian Billick still might have a job today as the Baltimore Ravens’ coach if he had had Collins on the roster. Elvis Grbac, Tony Banks, Jeff Blake, Anthony Wright, Kyle Boller — you mean to tell me Collins could not have done better than the pretenders the Ravens paraded out at quarterback since they won the Super Bowl in 2001?

The short answer is that Collins is a product of the Al Saunders system and that it is the knowledge and comfort in that system that makes him so effective.

But the skills he has shown — the ability to get rid of the ball quickly and accurately, avoiding mistakes — likely would have served him well in other situations and offenses.

Collins entered the league as the heir apparent to Jim Kelly with the Buffalo Bills, and the bad experience he had there seems to have left him gun-shy.

Collins got the starting job with the Bills in 1997, then had it taken away. He started 13 games that season and delivered some good and some bad performances. He was replaced by Alex Van Pelt and never resurfaced again, going to Kansas City to live his life as an understudy.

Collins still is a little haunted by what happened in Buffalo.

“It’s just that I thought I was playing fairly decent the first half of the season, and then for whatever reason they all of the sudden went with Van Pelt,” he told USA Today. “I wasn’t there very long and maybe could have gotten more of a chance, but that’s the same situation a lot of younger players in this league sometimes find themselves in. So you just stay patient.”

Patient? Job can go into retirement now. Todd Collins is the new standard for patience.

Collins, based on his performance with the Redskins this season, could go elsewhere next year and finally compete for a starting job. Yet he is cautious about those prospects even now.

“At this point of my career, I wouldn’t want to go into a situation that wasn’t set up properly,” he said. “I know how important it is to have a coaching staff and offensive coordinator that creates a structure for your quarterback and puts him in a position to succeed. Sometimes, you might have talent and an incredible arm, but if things aren’t set up properly, it’s difficult to succeed in this league.”

He is succeeding now, most notably, and his is a wonderful variation on the Cinderella story.

But in order to be Cinderella, you’ve got to scrub a lot of floors before you get invited to the ball. Why do all that scrubbing when you might have had a ticket to get in all along?

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