As a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1980s, Cris Collinsworth had four 1,000-yard seasons, made it to three Pro Bowls, played in two Super Bowls and finished second to the Saints’ George Rogers as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1981.
His playing career was a successful one in almost every respect, except for Jerry Rice. And yet, for understandable reasons, there is at least one generation of fans, and probably more, who recognize him as a broadcaster first, assuming he is even aware of his playing days.
Collinsworth will appear in his usual role as color analyst alongside play-by-play voice Mike Tirico the Patriots’ Sunday Night Football matchup with the DolphinsHe has now been on prime-time television for almost twice as long as he has played in the league.
He has been on “Sunday Night Football” since 2009, when he slotted in alongside Al Michaels following the retirement of John Madden, which was the most-watched primetime program on television for the 12th consecutive year in 2022.
Collinsworth’s 15 seasons are the longest continuous prime time of any NFL color analyst on television, surpassing Howard Cosell’s 14-year span on “Monday Night Football” from its inception in 1970 until his departure after the 1983 season.
(Cosell often sounded like he was doing play-by-play, usually because he was ranting while Frank Gifford was trying to decide the game.)
A 17-time Emmy winner throughout his broadcasting career, Collinsworth demurred when the prime-time record run was mentioned.
“There are two things the fans don’t care about,” he said. “One of them is how much money a player makes, so I try never to bring that up. And secondly, who the announcer is.”
My inbox wouldn’t agree with that latter opinion at all – I think I still get emails about the flawed Greg Gumbel-Adam Archuleta pairing for the Patriots-Dolphins opener last season – but Collinsworth’s point is understandable. He is the opposite of Cosell, albeit in philosophy, if not quite in detail. He never wants the game to be about him.
“I never take my own role in this whole thing seriously,” he said. “I think the fact that I did it for 15 years means I got up there in years, that’s all it means. But I love what I do. I really, really love it.”
Michaels, who worked with Cosell on ABC baseball broadcasts in the 1970s and 1980s and worked with Collinsworth on “Sunday Night Football” for 13 years, said in an email Friday that the two couldn’t be more different.
“Cosell played the role of provocateur rather than analyst. He was also moody, especially toward the end of his run,” said Michaels, who is in his second season calling Amazon Prime’s Thursday night package and has a role emeritus at NBC. “Working with him could be fun or painful. On its darker nights, it traversed an obstacle course.
“It was a pleasure working with Cris. He was always in a good mood and no one came better prepared. Working with Cris can be described in one word: smooth. And I don’t know anyone more loyal. When a 13-year relationship feels like it went by in 20 minutes, it couldn’t get any better.”
Collinsworth said he tries to approach his preparation the way coaches do.
“As Tom Brady [who is supposed to join Fox’s No. 1 team next year] You’ll find that you don’t have to prepare on one side of the ball for one team, but rather on six sides of the ball – offense, defense and special teams – for two teams. I’m just trying to get to a point where I can have a good conversation with the coaches and players and learn something I didn’t know before to pass on to the fans and viewers. If I can do that, I’ll be happy.”
When Collinsworth saw some footage of the Patriots’ opening 25-20 loss to the Eagles, Collinsworth said he thought coordinator Bill O’Brien did a great job putting together an offense that played to quarterback Mac Jones’ strengths. But Collinsworth mostly praised the Patriots’ defense.
“I thought the defense played great. Not just good, I thought they were great,” he said. “The Eagles are a really difficult team in a lot of ways. The Patriots coaches have come up with some clever plans. They played a lot of DBs and figured out how to neutralize a quarterback who is a great runner and can be very difficult to handle.
“The key for me was probably that the two corners held. It was really, really impressive against these guys. I walked out on that side of the ball and said, ‘You can be as good as anyone.'”
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