Editor’s note: Tim Collier, the subject of this story, is the guest speaker at the first-ever Gazette Grizzly Sports Stars event, set May 3 at 5:30 p.m. at Mariposa County High School. Top athletes at the school will be recognized. The event is free to attend.
Tim Collier is a man who counts his blessings.
He was able to fulfill his dream of playing professional football for close to a decade and lives a fulfilling life even years after retiring. The 6-foot, 172 pound cornerback played for the Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. Over the course of his NFL career from 1976-1986, he played in 94 games and recorded 15 interceptions and two touchdowns.
“I believe wholeheartedly without any doubt that I was a blessed individual, first of all to stay away from injuries that could cut short a career,” said Collier. “Secondly, I tried to take care of my body the best I could during the season and in the offseason. I tried to come into training camp in shape so little things couldn’t slow me up. Football is a brutal sport. It only takes a moment to be in the wrong position and be injured.”
Collier, 64, currently resides in Fresno and will be the guest speaker at the Gazette’s first-ever Sports Stars event, a ceremony geared toward honoring local athletes.
He said he has “a lot of great memories” during his time in the NFL, particularly with the San Francisco 49ers.
“My time with the 49ers was fantastic. It was a family atmosphere,” Collier said. “The guys genuinely cared for each other. We hung out with each other away from the complex. One of the things that really got my attention when I joined the Niners was it didn’t matter who was on the field. Everybody was pulling for that individual to succeed.”
Collier said that family atmosphere “really touched” him, because he played with teams “where the guy who wasn’t playing was hoping you’d get hurt or would do bad so he could play. That’s not a team atmosphere.”
That comfortable atmosphere was fostered by the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. Under his leadership, the 49ers won all five of their Super Bowls.
“Mr. Debartolo was, in my opinion, one of the best owners ever in that he wanted to win and didn’t mind putting out extra money to ensure or help us win,” Collier said.
Collier said “a prime example” of DeBartolo’s commitment to winning was that on the other teams he played for, the flight to road games would take place on the day prior to the game. DeBartolo, however, would fly the 49ers to the road games two days prior to the game in order to let them acclimate to being on the road.
“With my other teams, by the time we got into the city it was late and we were up Sunday morning dealing with a two or three-hour time difference. We were jetlagged,” Collier said. “Eddie De- Bartolo wanted to win so bad that we would leave Friday afternoon after practice, get in Friday night and have all of Saturday to get adjusted to the time change. It was little things like that which gave us an edge.”
Collier said he still attends 49er games on a regular basis, and is excited about the future of the franchise. With a new quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, the future could be bright.
“I think they are moving in the right direction. I don’t think they’re that far away,” Collier said. “Depending on what happens in this draft and the offseason acquisitions, I look for them to be a playoff team. How deep they go, I don’t know. But they do have the talent. From what I can see, we need another cover cornerback, an edge rusher and another fast receiver to play on the outside. If we get all of that, then we can make a run.”
Despite his excitement about the future of the 49ers, Collier did lament how “the game today is so different.”
“It’s hard to be intimate with the team when a guy is playing for your team this year and next year he is somewhere else,” Collier said. “It is difficult to be intimate that way.”
He said one of the aspects of today’s era of the NFL is that it is “so different” in how referees officiate the game.
“I think it’s taken a little away from the game. It’s true we want safety at all cost, but it’s a collision sport,” Collier said. “The game is geared toward the offense and scoring more points. It seems that no one appreciates a good defensive game like 10-6 or 10-7. They tend to lean more toward the 35- 31 games.”
Collier added that it is harder to play in the secondary nowadays “because of the way they’re playing” and officiating the game.
“I still don’t have a clear-cut understanding of what pass interference is,” Collier said. “Another thing that is disheartening to me is the way the cornerbacks are playing. … They’re not taking anything away from the receivers.”
Collier said there were “a lot of great receivers” when he came into the league, from Lynn Swann to John Stallworth — and they were “all pretty big receivers.”
“So when I see defensive backs trying to cover someone like Rob Gronkowski,” Collier continued, “there is a way you have to cover these guys, technique-wise. You have to forget about your personal stats, because nine times out of 10 the receiver is taller than you and going to out-jump you. You should look to bat the ball away or out of his hands and not intercept it. That’s the mistake a lot of cornerbacks make today.”
Although his NFL career wrapped up over 30 years ago, Collier still maintains a burning passion for the game of football.