Born: June 11, 1958
James Brian Collins was born June 11, 1958 in Orange and grew up in Mendham. A star in youth league football, he combined size and speed and was a ferocious tackler. By the time he was on the varsity at West Morris Mendham High, the Minutemen’s defense was impenetrable. As a senior in 1976, Jim helped coach Richie Attonito’s team record 8 shutouts and its first-ever state championship. Jim was recruited by several major schools, eventually accepting a scholarship to Syracuse. Fellow linebacker Carl Zander also earned a scholarship, to Tennessee. Both players would make it to the NFL.
In college, Jim was an unstoppable, sideline-to-sideline tackler. In a 1979 game against Penn State, he had 22 solo tackles and assisted on 20 more. That year Jim was credited with 229 to set a new school mark. In 1980, he was an honorable mention All-American. He graduated with the Syracuse record for career tackles, with 624.
Jim went in the second round of the 1981 NFL Draft to the Los Angeles Rams, who were coached by fellow New Jerseyan Ray Malavasi. Two years removed from an NFC title, the Rams were a period of decline. But by 1983, they were back on the winning track thanks to an infusion of young talent—including Jim, who cracked the starting lineup for the first time. In 1984 and 1985, Jim earned All-Pro recognition from a handful of publications and played in the Pro Bowl after each season (once as an injury replacement).
Jim picked of 2 passes three years in a row from 1983 to 1985, and was a key member of a defense that featured Nolan Cromwell and Leroy Irvin. In 1985, no NFC linebacker with the exception of Lawrence Taylor was better at running down ball carriers. That year, the Rams went 11–5 and shutout the Cowboys 20–0 in the opening round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, they ran into the Bears in the championship game and lost 24–0. Jim got some small satisfaction when he speared Jim McMahon’s rear end at the end of a run. Heading into the Super Bowl, the condition of McMahon’s butt was of great interest to the story-starved media.
Jim’s career took an unexpected turn in 1986, when he injured his shoulder in a preseason game against the Oilers. A pinched nerve prevented him from flexing his left deltoid muscle, which inhibited his ability to make tackles. Team doctors were unable to get him back on the field and he missed the entire season. Jim returned to the lineup in 1987, but missed 12 games in 1988 with a knee injury. He played one final season with the Chargers in 1989 before calling it a career.
In 1999, Jim was named to Syracuse’s all-century squad. He remained on the West Coast, where he lives and works today.