Life of Reilly

There are things in the sports pages sometimes that make you want to ralph in your Special K.

Recently it was sprinter Marion Jones telling Oprah that the reason she lied to federal prosecutors about using steroids was that "I didn't love myself enough."

Oh, stick it in your Kleenex box. You didn't love yourself enough? You loved yourself too much! You loved yourself so much you wanted to shower yourself with gold and magazine covers and six-zero endorsement deals, even if you had to cheat to do it.

Still, I filed her comments in my Arthritic Rub box. It's named for Barry Bonds and his excuse that he thought he was using an arthritic rub on his muscles, not steroid cream. Sure, Barry. This is why you see so many old folks bench-pressing their Buicks.

A few other beauties from the box:

  • Figure skater Johnny Weir, on his lousy performance in the 2006 Winter Olympics: "I didn't feel my inner peace. I didn't feel my aura. I was black inside."

  • Cyclist Tyler Hamilton's explanation of how someone else's blood once ended up in his veins: He had a twin who died in utero.

  • Pete Rose saying he gambled, despite the world's screaming at him not to, because he had "oppositional defiant disorder."

  • Former Cub José Cardenal saying he didn't play one night because an eyelid was stuck open.

  • Long-distance runner Dieter Baumann, on why he tested positive for steroids in 1999: My toothpaste was spiked.

  • And the best ever, from Zambian tennis player Lighton Ndefwayl, after a 1992 loss: "My jockstrap was too tight."

This is why I like Kerry Collins. Whether he plays like Fran Tarkenton or Fran Drescher, he never makes excuses.

After he performed like a Xanaxed ferret in the 2001 Super Bowl, lobbing four picks to the Ravens in the Giants' blowout loss, he stood at the podium postgame and said, "I sucked today. I was prepared. I was ready. I just played terrible."

No matter how he screws up his life—and the young Collins found more ways than MapQuest—he always faces the music. Hell, he sticks his face in the tuba.

When he was a drunk—ol' Vodka Collins—he went to rehab and admitted his alcoholism to the world. When he used racial insults to "bond" with teammates—and got a black eye for it—he admitted that he was trying to be funny and just wasn't. When it came out back in 1998 that he'd told his 0–4 Panthers he didn't have the heart to bring them back, he didn't lie. He really believed it. "One of the 12 steps is being honest with yourself," Collins says today, "and, in a sense, being honest with others. Making amends, you know? It's necessary."

But in front of the world? "As an NFL QB, my life is already so public I just do it. When I was younger, I ran from it, the limelight. I actually think that was half the reason I drank. I was escaping. I didn't know how to handle it."

Here's the irony: Collins is the Titans' starter—and an unlikely MVP candidate, at 35—because the kid he replaced doesn't know how to handle it yet. Vince Young melted down in the second week of the season. There was talk of guns, confusion and suicide. Even his mother said her boy was "hurting inside and out."

And yet sitting at the next locker was a man who once made Britney Spears look Amish. Still, Young has never asked Collins to help him.

Somebody should. Because Collins found out the hard way. You want to love yourself? Tell yourself the truth.

If Bonds is guilty—and there are silos full of evidence suggesting he is—he could've confessed years ago and been looking at 800 home runs instead of 14 counts of perjury. If Roger Clemens used HGH—as his best friend Andy Pettitte swore he did—he could've owned up and been looking at his eighth Cy Young by now instead of a lawsuit. There's a reason you can't fool all the people all the time. It's exhausting.

And what does Collins think when he sees sports stars dig themselves in deeper and deeper? "I don't want to comment on anybody else," he says, "but I will say that at some point, if you're not going to be honest with everybody else, you at least have to be honest with yourself. You can't live with that."

If you look at Collins' face this week, you'll see a big cut on his nose. He was deer hunting, saw a six-pointer loping by, didn't have time to get a good rifle rest on his shoulder, fired anyway and the recoil nailed him. But he got the deer.

Figures. He never did like to pass the buck.

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