On his final day as a football player, Cris Collinsworth displayed his skill as an analyst.
That’s what he’ll be doing on Super Bowl Sunday. When his old team, the Cincinnati Bengals, faces the Los Angeles Rams (6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 13), he’ll be in the NBC booth with Mike Tirico.
But in the Bengals’ previous Super Bowl, on Jan. 22, 1989, he was a receiver. His team had just gone ahead of the 49ers 16-13, with three minutes and 20 seconds left. As Bengals coach Sam Wyche recalled it in “Super Bowl Sunday: The Day America Stops” (Addax Publishing, 2000), Collinsworth (shown here in his playing days) “came over and elbowed me and said we may have left too much time.”
Good analysis. Joe Montana promptly launched a 92-yard drive for the San Francisco 49ers, overcoming two turning points. On a second-and-20, he hit a 31-yard pass to a triple-teamed Jerry Rice; later, he threw a pass that bounced off the chest of defender Lewis Billips, for what would have been the game-sealing interception.
Then, with 34 seconds left, Montana hit John Taylor for a touchdown. The Bengals’ final pass, broken up, was from Boomer Esisason to Collinsworth … who, just shy of his 30th birthday, was about to retire.
He was the Bengals’ top receiver in the game with three catches for 40 yards. Rice had 11 for 215; he’s in the Hall of Fame, Collinsworth isn’t.
There were other choices for Collinsworth. He got a law degree from the University of Cincinnati; his wife is also a lawyer. As he’s told it: A massive football player, unhappy with his commentary, once threatened him; Collinsworth warned that he’s from “a family of lawyers” and the guy left.
Collinsworth soon launched a sportscasting career that took him from radio (WLW in Cincinnati) to HBO, NBC, Fox and back to NBC, where he became the Sunday-night analyst in 2009, when John Madden retired. This will be his third Super Bowl as an NBC analyst, after one for Fox.
And even without a win, Wyche wrote, the event can be festive. “When you get to the Super Bowl, you’re treated in first-class style …. We were kings for a week, the center of attention.”
Most players, he wrote, never get that far. O.J. Simpson “never played in the Super Bowl; Barry Sanders never played in one. We are talking about great players that never played in a Super Bowl.”
That included the Bengals, during a three-decade stretch without a play-off win. It almost included Matthew Stafford, who spent 12 years with the Detroit Lions, reaching the play-offs three times.
Until he was traded to the Ram this year, Stafford had never won a play-off game. Now he faces Bengals second-year quarterback Joe Burrow … who has never lost a play-off game. It could be fun.