Patriots

Cris Collinsworth has passed Howard Cosell for the longest continuous prime-time run for an NFL analyst, but he knows the game isn’t about him

Collinsworth is a 17-time Emmy winner over the course of his broadcasting career.

Tony Avelar
Cris Collinsworth will be in his familiar role as color analyst alongside play-by-play voice Mike Tirico on the Patriots’ “Sunday Night Football” matchup with the Dolphins.


As a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1980s, Cris Collinsworth had four 1,000-yard seasons, made three Pro Bowls, played in a pair of Super Bowls, and was runner-up to the Saints’ George Rogers for 1981 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

His was an accomplished playing career by pretty much every non-Jerry Rice measure of the time. And yet, for understandable reasons, there is at least one generation of fans, and probably more, that recognizes him first as a broadcaster, presuming awareness of his playing days at all.

Collinsworth, who will be in his familiar role as color analyst alongside play-by-play voice Mike Tirico on the Patriots’ “Sunday Night Football” matchup with the Dolphins, has been on prime-time television now for nearly twice as long as he played in the league.

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He has been with “Sunday Night Football,” which in 2022 was the most-watched prime-time program on television for the 12th straight year, since 2009, when he slid in next to Al Michaels after John Madden’s retirement.

Collinsworth’s 15 seasons is the longest continuous prime-time run on broadcast television of any NFL color analyst ever, surpassing Howard Cosell’s 14-year stretch on “Monday Night Football” from its advent in 1970 to his departure after the 1983 season.

(Cosell often sounded like he was doing play-by-play, usually because he was blustering while Frank Gifford was trying to call the game.)

A 17-time Emmy winner over the course of his broadcasting career, Collinsworth demurred when the record run in prime time was mentioned.

“There’s two things that fans don’t care anything about,” he said. “One is how much money a player is making, so I try to never bring that up. And two, who the announcer is.”

My inbox would strongly disagree with that latter sentiment — I think I’m still getting emails about the mistake-filled Greg Gumbel-Adam Archuleta pairing for the Patriots-Dolphins opener last season — but Collinsworth’s point is understood. He’s the antithesis of Cosell, in philosophy if not entirely verbosity. He never wants the game to be about him.

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“I never take my own role in this whole thing seriously at all,” he said. “I think the fact that I’ve done 15 years means that I’m getting up there in years, that’s all that means. But l love what I do. I truly, truly love it.”

Collinsworth’s 15 seasons is the longest continuous prime-time run of any NFL color analyst ever, surpassing Howard Cosell’s 14-year stretch on “Monday Night Football.” — ( Grant Halverson / Photographer: Grant Halverson/Ge )

Michaels, who worked with Cosell on ABC baseball broadcasts in the 1970s and ‘80s and was partnered with Collinsworth on “Sunday Night Football” for 13 years, said in an email Friday that the two couldn’t be more dissimilar.

“Cosell played the role of provocateur more than analyst. He was also moody, especially toward the end of his run,” said Michaels, who is in his second season of calling Amazon Prime’s Thursday night package and has an emeritus role at NBC. “Working with him could be fun or could be painful. On his darker nights, it was traversing an obstacle course.

“Cris was a joy to work with. He was always in a great mood and no one ever came more prepared. Working with Cris could be described in one word — seamless. And I know of no one more loyal. When a 13-year partnership feels like it went by in 20 minutes, it couldn’t get any better.”

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Collinsworth said he tries to approach his preparation like coaches do.

“As Tom Brady [who is supposed to join Fox’s No. 1 team next year] will find out, rather than getting ready on one side of the ball for one team, you’ve got to get ready on six sides of the ball — offense, defense, and special teams — for two teams. I just try to get to a point where I can have a decent conversation with the coaches and players and try to learn something I didn’t know before to pass along to the fans and viewers. If I can do that, I’m happy.”

Upon watching some Patriots tape of their 25-20 season-opening loss to the Eagles, Collinsworth said he thought coordinator Bill O’Brien has done an excellent job putting together an offense that plays to quarterback Mac Jones’s strengths. But Collinsworth aimed the majority of his praise at the Patriots’ defense.

“I thought the defense played great. Not just good, I thought they played great,” he said. “The Eagles are a really hard team to handle in so many different ways. The Patriots coaches came up with some clever schemes. They played a lot of DBs and figured out how to neutralize a quarterback who is a great runner and can be really tough to handle.

“Probably the key for me was that the two corners held up. Against those guys, that was really, really impressive. I walked out on that side of the ball going, ‘They can be as good as anybody.’”

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