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Cris Collinsworth Welcomes The "Their Time," Bengals To The Super Bowl 40 Years Later

Jim Breech and Cris Collinsworth (80) are watching all their postseason records disappear.
Jim Breech and Cris Collinsworth (80) are watching all their postseason records disappear.

LOS ANGELES - If it seems like Al Michaels has called everything but a presidential election, it's because he has.

Michaels, NBC's Miracle Man who is calling his record-tying 11th Super Bowl Sunday, puts another benediction on a team Thursday as he watches the Bengals practice at UCLA.

"I think America has been captivated by this team," Michaels says. "Come back down 18 to Kansas City on the road. And everybody said, 'Whoa.'"

Michaels could look across Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's toughest practice of the week and see Pauley Pavilion, the gym where he called John Wooden's last two seasons and 10th national championship. He also called some of the first great moments of the Big Red Machine and sees Sunday as a nice bookend to his days on the Ohio River that included a World Series.

But Michaels couldn't call it when he sat down with Bengals rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase earlier Thursday and asked him who had the Bengals rookie postseason receiving record.

Chase said he didn't know and Michaels pointed at his partner and said, "Him."

"One of the great blank looks," Cris Collinsworth says. "That's the way it should be. This is their time."

Collinsworth, who has almost as many Emmys (16) analyzing the NFL as Chase has postseason catches (20), says Chase is the best receiver in Bengals history even though he's built more like a running back.

"That's why," Collinsworth says. "I think he's a phenomenal athlete who just happens to play wide receiver. He plays the position like Gale Sayers would play it. You'll probably have to tell him who Gale Sayers is."

While we're at it, on the 40th anniversary of the Bengals' first Super Bowl team, isn't Joe Burrow playing quarterback like Collinsworth played that year? A rookie taking shot after shot and getting up and setting record after record on the way to the Super Bowl. And so cool while doing it. Collinsworth had '80s aw-shucks swag. Burrow has 2020s social media swag.

"There never has been anybody cooler than this kid," Collinsworth says. "That's impossible."

What's not impossible is that Burrow has made an All-Pro team. You just have to go to Collinsworth's Pro Football Focus web site to find it. It's the Pro Bowl team he put together. Burrow is his quarterback.

"He deserved it," Collinsworth says.

Shelve the PFF grades for a sec. Collinsworth can get a little nostalgic.

"I'm like everyone else. If you can't have fun watching these guys play football …" Collinsworth says. "They've got a certain energy. What's the big deal? When I came in, I didn't know. We were the top seed. We won the first two games at home and went to the Super Bowl. I did it in my first year. Doesn't everybody? I get the same kind of feel with this bunch. 'OK, we've won a couple of games and we're at the Super Bowl at UCLA. We beat them in school, too, so we'll keep winning.' I mean, that's just how it seems. They're young and they're just playing."

That's why Collinsworth thinks these Bengals have repeated history and taken Cincinnati by storm. No one was expecting it.

"It was so fast. It's all happened in just a couple of weeks," Collinsworth said. "Think about it. We were the No. 1 seed both times and both times we had the NFL MVP at quarterback., They were the fourth seed with a quarterback who kept getting healthier. What are the odds that we've got a team in the Super Bowl that we didn't have on Sunday night or Monday night?"

Collinsworth has lived these last 40 years in Cincinnati and he's raised his kids there and there's no question he's a fan. He also knows there's a game to call. After all that Super Bowl prep, there's still a big question.

What's it going to be like calling the Bengals in the Super Bowl?

"I don't know," Collinsworth says.

He is working the Super Bowl practice. He likes how the Bengals are running around with a certain energy you don't usually see so late in the season. He likes they came out here early to get in two heavy practices. He remembers that first Super Bowl 40 years ago and how all of a sudden they were playing the first indoor Super Bowl in history.

"These guys are fast," Collinsworth says. "We went into Detroit and we were cramping and sweating our tails off. We hadn't sweated in two months because it was so cold."

Running back Joe Mixon is standing close by near the end of practice and Collinsworth sticks out his hand to introduce himself. This is a guy he thinks can have a big game. He loves how he catches the ball. But he asks Mixon what he sees on those lethal cutbacks when he makes that executive decision to go off track.

After Mixon walks him through a brief tutorial, Collinsworth hands him some Super Bowl experience.

"No one remembers who loses this game," Collinsworth says. "I think I've worn my AFC championship ring once in my life. That's it."

But out here in the sun, 40 years away from the Detroit disappointment, he hopes that all melts away for the guys who maybe never heard of Gale Sayers.

"The odds of that many young players playing at this level is zero," Collinsworth says. "It doesn't happen."

Chase is two more catches from passing Collinsworth on the Bengals all-time postseason list into second place. That would put him six shy of the late great Dan Ross. When he takes the mic, Collinsworth is the Bengals' all-time postseason leader with 354 yards. Chase needs 76 to pass him for another record.

"I hope," Collinsworth says, "I have none in three days."