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Collins Has the Last Laugh This Time : Pro football: Burned by Anderson on fateful pass 3 1/2 years ago, he returns interception for first NFL touchdown to help Giants defeat Rams.


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Flipper Anderson was sprinting toward the north end of Giants Stadium Sunday with Mark Collins trailing a few yards behind. Jim Everett stepped up and fired a long, high spiral. And visions of Jan. 7, 1990, jumped to life in the minds of Giant and Ram fans alike.

On that day, Anderson caught a 30-yard pass from Everett and kept on going up the tunnel under the stands as the Rams won in overtime to advance to the NFC championship game against the 49ers.

On that day, Anderson said he could have run all the way to San Francisco.

On this day, he didn't even make it to Secaucus.

Everett's pass seemed to float momentarily, caught up in the gusting winds swirling around the stadium. As Anderson slowed slightly to adjust, Collins found another gear, closed the gap and tipped the ball away at the last moment.

"I just hauled . . . and got there," Collins said. "I just put my head down and ran. When you're scared, you're sometimes amazed what your body can do."

Apparently, Collins was more afraid of living with the memory of another failure than he was of getting burned on a touchdown pass.

"Everybody's always talking about that same damn play," he said, obviously annoyed. "I'd like to erase it from my memory. Can't we go on? Can't we get past that? You know, in that game, I had 10 tackles and an interception, but everybody talks about that one damn pass.

"Well, let me ask you this: What have the Rams done since then? I've picked up another Super Bowl ring since then, but what have the Rams got? So hey, you can talk about that play all you want, but that's that. Thank you."

This Anderson-Collins battle wasn't even the highlight of Collins' day--he grabbed a rebound off Tim Lester's shoulder pads in the third quarter and returned the interception 50 yards for his first NFL touchdown--but it was a big play that may have changed the complexion of the game.

The Giants were leading, 10-3, midway through the second quarter.

Collins, who led the Giants with six tackles Sunday, was instrumental in keeping them down.

"Mark is one of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL, but he's really been playing well in our first three games," said Giant Coach Dan Reeves, who awarded Collins a game ball. "He's made a lot of tackles coming up from the secondary . . . he's really an excellent tackler."

Collins said that his teammates, tired of hearing how the Rams had beaten them in five of the last six encounters, took a "sense of urgency" into their preparations for the Rams, going over game films with a "fine-toothed comb until we knew their tendencies probably better than they did."

It wasn't mental gymnastics that helped him score his first pro touchdown, however. He merely followed the ball into his arms and mustered another burst of speed to carry him out of the reach of a diving Everett to give the Giants a 20-3 lead.

"I thought Jim would catch me for a while because I saw him out of the corner of my eye and he had the angle on me," Collins said. "But then I said to myself, 'Nah, I can't let that happen.' So I just aimed for the pylon in the corner to reduce his angle and the rest was sheer speed."

Collins managed a smile.

"I didn't want Jim to catch me because we live near each other in California and he wouldn't have let me live it down. And, hell, if he had caught me, he probably would have been on the cover of Sports Illustrated."

If you get the feeling that Collins feels underappreciated, maybe it's only a holdover from his days at Cal State Fullerton.

But nobody ever questioned Collins' talent. A second-round pick in 1986, he has been a starter since his rookie season in New York. Sunday's interception was the 15th of his career.

Maybe that's why Collins was a little surprised to find Ram cornerback Todd Lyght, a first-round pick in 1991, screaming at him after Lester had knocked Collins over during a vicious collision near the Ram sideline late in the game.

"He's yelling, 'Better buckle up your chin strap,' " Collins said. "I mean who is he, anyway? I don't even know that guy. What's he ever done? He doesn't even know how to play. He hasn't done nothing in this league. I mean, wait until you make a play in this league, then you can talk some trash."

And Collins had the ultimate answer for Lyght, one that brought an appreciative roar from the 76,213 in Giants Stadium. As Lyght's head bobbed up and down with each taunt, Collins simply pointed up at the scoreboard.

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