By: Steve Balestrieri
These days Tony Collins uses the words, ‘opportunity’ and ‘choice’ a lot. And the message he’s bringing to the young people around the country where he’s talking to them as a motivational speaker is that you’ll be faced with plenty of both in your life and that those will shape you into the person you’ll become.
Collins penned the book, “Broken Road – Turning My Mess Into a Message” and now is trying to help the young people of the country make the right choices. It is a message he’s happy to share it, all of it from the ultimate highs to lowest of despair.
Collins in his book talks candidly about the highs of playing in the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl and being a 1000 yard rusher in the NFL to the lows of suffering a drug overdose on the streets of Indianapolis and losing his NFL career and admitting he had no plan for a life after the game.
Collins will be in town this weekend as he’s doing a book signing at the Independence Mall in Kingston MA on Saturday and on Sunday will be with the Patriots Alumni at their annual “Game With the Greats” in Foxboro.
He took the time from his busy motivational speaking and book signing schedule to talk with PatsFans.com and give some poignant reflections on his past. And he spared himself no slack, speaking just as candidly about his failings as well as his successes.
But perhaps the biggest thing that came out of the conversation today was that he’s in a happy place in his life right now and not only has come to peace with his path but is willing to share the darker sides of it to spare others the anguish he put on himself and his family.
Collins was drafted by the Patriots in the second round of the 1981 NFL Draft from East Carolina and was a backup to Vagas Ferguson, but Ferguson was hurt in training camp that year and Horace Ivory was also banged up which prompted Collins to get the start in his first NFL game.
And what a start it was, Collins carried 15 times for 81 yards, caught three passes for 48 more and returned three kickoffs for 65 yards. His career was off to a fast start.
“It was great, and it is what I mean by opportunities,” Collins recalls of his debut. “I was drafted to return kicks and was the 3rd string running back Vagas Ferguson was the starter the year before and had set the rookie rushing record.”
“He was a Notre Dame guy, a Heisman Trophy candidate and I got the opportunity to play because Vagas got hurt in camp,” he said. “Horace Ivory was a good running back from Oklahoma and then he got hurt and I got a chance to start the season”
It was a great experience, while I was pleased with the performance; I believe we did lose that game (29-28 to the Colts) but it was exciting, something you dream about as a kid, playing in the NFL.”
Things turned around for the Patriots as the 2-14 team of 1981 was making strides and as Raymond Berry took over in the middle of the 1984 season, the die was cast for the Patriots to go on to bigger and better things.
But Collins was hurt and was taking shots for the pain of being an everyday running back in the NFL, for fear of losing his job like Ferguson did before him. The pain medication made him nauseous, a New England teammate suggested marijuana, as that would ease the nausea. It worked and Collins spiral began.
Marijuana gave way to cocaine and Collins was hooked. For a kid who never drank or smoked before college, he was navigating in unchartered territory. The beginning of the end was the morning after the Super Bowl XX loss to the Bears. A report surfaced that Collins was among a dozen players that tested positive for illegal drugs that season.
But today, asked about the most enduring memory of that 1985 season, Collins remembers the players and the closeness of that special season.
“The biggest memory was all of us got along so well, Raymond came in and taught us how to win…he turned it around in one year,” he said. He spoke about going on the road to New York to beat the Jets in the first round of the playoffs, then beating the Raiders in LA and finally the big game in Miami where the heavily favored Dolphins were routed by the Patriots.
“We really put a spanking on them,” Collins said. “That was really our Super Bowl,” he recalled laughing. “It was a great ride that year, a great run but that the biggest thing was the camaraderie we felt that season.”
Collins lasted two more years in New England but his drug use was getting out of control and then nearly died of a drug overdose on the street in Indiana and was suspended for a year. He played shortly for the Miami Dolphins before being released when he couldn’t stay straight.
But the book isn’t about football and about drugs, it is ultimately about choices. And the result of what happens when you make the bad choices. And Collins today is all about helping people make good ones. He’s re-united with his hometown, his college teammates now and is active in the Patriots Alumni and will be in attendance for this weekend’s Game With the Greats event at Foxboro.
|Tony Collins at a recent Game With the Greats hosted by the Patriots Alumni.
“I talk about opportunity and choices and I tell them they get the choice to study hard or be a class clown…to work hard at your sport or whatever interests you and the older you get, the more difficult the choices become.”
Collins added, “I used to think that my purpose in life to play in the NFL but that was part of it, but the purpose of my life now is let these kids or whoever else wants to listen is there is life. If you make a mistake, you don’t have to stay down; you can get back up and get back up to the top.”
Collins’ book signing will be held Saturday, October 19, at the Book Shack at the Independence Mall in Kingston, MA from noon to 2 p.m.
An audio copy of the entire interview will be posted on the next podcast of Patriots 4th & 2. Details will be posted on the PatsFans.com website.