LOS ANGELES — Cris Collinsworth is a one-man media mogul, calling NFL games on the country’s most-watched television show and co-owning the website many will use to preview the biggest game of the year this week.
He’s also still a greater Cincinnati resident, and a Bengal at heart.
“I’m obviously excited,” he said during a teleconference this week to preview NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl LVI. “I’m human. I can’t help myself. It’s going to be fun. I would have bought a ticket regardless to go watch this game. I just happened to get the best seat in the house and sit next to my partner, and what could be better?”
Collinsworth, the color commentator on NFL Sunday Night Football and co-owner of Pro Football Focus, will be on the call Sunday night with long-time play-by-play announcer Al Michaels.
That has actually meant extra homework for Collinsworth since the Bengals beat the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.
Although he has identified himself as a Bengals season-ticket holder, Collinsworth’s job generally takes him out of town on Sundays.
He follows the team, of course, but covering a game is another matter. It requires him to become an instant expert on each team via film study and production meetings with team personnel that often yield behind-the-scenes looks at each squad not afforded even team beat reporters, let alone fans.
“The bizarre part about this game is that I probably had more relationships with the Rams than I did the Bengals,” said Collinsworth, whose SNF crew last had the Bengals for a Week 7 blowout in Kansas City in 2018. “I had never met the offensive or defensive coordinator before. I had only met (head coach) Zac Taylor a couple of times before. We hadn’t done one of their games. It was a weird week for me that I had to do almost all my preparation with the Bengals because I knew so much more about the Rams.”
That is where location came in handy for Collinsworth, who took advantage of his personal home field advantage and made the trip to Paul Brown Stadium to see the Bengals practice before they headed west.
“It was tremendous,” he said before praising team president Mike Brown.
“He could not have been more warm and gracious when I walked into that practice the other day. I really appreciate him. I always have. I’m happy for them.”
Collinsworth, who was a Bengals receiver from 1981-88 and is among a handful of men who played in both of the team’s Super Bowl appearances, also dug deep into the Bengals film.
That gave him a chance to assess those who currently play his old position.
“They’re a fun watch,” Collinsworth said. “I don’t know how much America is familiar with them because there haven’t been that many sort of primetime games, but they are definitely a fun watch.”
Collinsworth, who was born in Dayton but moved to Florida when he was still a child, already thinks rookie Ja’Marr Chase is the best receiver he has seen in a Bengals uniform.
“I don’t say that lightly,” he said. “Isaac Curtis is a dear friend of mine, and Chad Ochocinco was phenomenal during his run here, but the number of times I’ve seen Ja’Marr Chase catch the football five or 10 yards down the field and score a touchdown without anybody tackling him obviously, first of all, but usually nobody touching him, his catch-and-run skills have just been so much fun to watch this season.
“It was really a joy for me to go back and really get familiar with this group of receivers and this quarterback who I’ve told a couple of our guys already that I think he’s followed by angels,” Collinsworth said. “Joe Burrow has escaped some moments this year that you just can’t imagine, and you saw a little bit of it against the Chiefs and Chris Jones in that (AFC) Championship Game.
Collinsworth’s partner, Al Michaels, has his own connections to Cincinnati.
He was born on the East Coast and later moved to the West Coast, but early in his career he called Reds games on the radio prior to Marty Brennaman.
“It’s a great sports town,” said Michaels, who was the voice of the Reds from 1971-73 and also worked the 1972 World Series between the Reds and A’s for NBC.
“When I was 26yearsold, I’d go in to do the Cincinnati Reds. It’s the original Major League team. I mean, Cincinnati is baseball, and then when the Bengals came in in 1968 as an expansion team, they had a lot of early success.
“When I was there, I got to go to a number of Bengals games, and the town was very excited with football, with professional football. The fact that they went to two Super Bowls in the ‘80s was tremendous, and then through the years it’s been rough, even though they’ve made a lot of playoff appearances, and finally they get over the hump.
“Having spent three years there, I loved every moment of it. A fantastic sports town.”
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