Updated: 5:45 p.m,
Leave it to Cris Collinsworth.
Start talking about A.J. Green, the out of this world Bengals receiver, and you end up talking about Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.
Collinsworth, one of the most popular Bengals of all-time and a long-time Emmy Award winning sports broadcaster, showed up at Paul Brown Stadium on Friday morning with the work ethic of a multiple Pro Bowler as he continued to prep for NBC's telecast Sunday of the AFC North demolition derby (8:20 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) pitting the Bengals against the Steelers.
It was within a day of his father's funeral and that was tough and yet there was something nice and fitting that Collinsworth was in back Bengaldom, just over the river from his Northern Kentucky home.
"I finally get a home game and still had to fly in for it," Collinsworth said with a sad smile as he pointed to seats just below the press box. "It's nice to be able to go home and sleep in my own bed. I'll be able to see my kids because our tickets are right below the booth and throw stuff at them during the game."
Talk about how it never goes the way they draw up the Xs and Os.
Collinsworth is dealing with another death because after the schedule came out in the spring he set up a dinner for this weekend with Armstrong, an acquaintance through a mutual friend, so play-by-play partner Al Michaels could meet the first man on the moon. But Armstrong died in late August of a heart ailment.
"Al was so excited. He says he was the one guy he wanted to meet more than anybody on Earth. He wanted to meet Neil Armstrong," Collinsworth said. "Al's just broken-hearted. (Neil) was such a good guy. Oh my gosh, I loved him."
It is certainly quite a picture. The Iconic American Hero and The Iconic Bengal Hero talking football. Could Armstrong have been a Bengals fan?
"He knew something about everything. That was one smart guy, I'm telling you," Collinsworth said. "He was something special. Probably the greatest hidden treasure of this area was having him around. We had a deal. I didn't ask him about the moon and he didn't ask me much about football. We covered a lot of other subjects."
One of this weekend's topics on the table has to be Green, since he's broken one of Collinsworth's 30-year-old records. Collinsworth joked last year as Green went on his rookie rampage that he didn't know he had any records left.
But Green did break Collinsworth's club rookie record with 1,057 yards, but he was two shy of his 67 catches. Now that Green leads the NFL with 628 receiving yards and has scored in five straight games, Collinsworth just shrugs in awe.
"I've quit comparing my career to any of these phenoms out here," he said. "He's phenomenal going and getting the ball. Everybody wants to talk about guys and how fast they are or whatever. But in my mind, the league is about going and getting the ball in the air. And he's like Larry Fitzgerald.
"He has that third dimension, the ability to rebound, to go up and just get the ball, sort of like a defensive back, at its highest point. You're afraid to leave him one-on-one because he's such a strong, powerful kid going up in the air. He's fun to watch. I'm really looking forward to seeing him in person."
Collinsworth is also looking forward to the game because it has given him a chance to study his old team. The funny thing is, he knows more about the Steelers because they're on Sunday night a lot more than the Bengals. But he finds himself storing the Bengals games on his iPad someplace handy so he can keep an eye on them.
"I think they have talent. I think both these teams have talent to win 10 games. But they don't have overwhelming talent. In other words, they've got to win those close games. It's a young team," Collinsworth said. "We see it. Cam Newton was off the charts a year ago, well, there's a year's worth of tape on Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. So, there are no surprises anymore. Cam, people are starting to figure out a little bit of what he stands for. It's going to be sometimes the second year can actually be harder.
"That's the old thing about the hitters, second time around they start figuring out who they and what they are. I think this team is starting to figure it out. This team is capable. They can rush the passer. They are going to catch a Steelers team with a couple linemen hurt and running backs hurt. They are going to have to get after the quarterback. There is no way around that in this game. They are going to have to find a way to get to Ben (Roethlisberger)."
Another reason Collinsworth is looking forward to this one is because it means so much. He doesn't call it an elimination game, but he certainly sees it as trendsetter for the next 10 games.
"These are two playoff teams (from a year ago) who need to show something and win this game. Take either side. You have the Bengals in a position after losing two in a row that if you marked up the schedule at the beginning of which ones they were going to win you would've marked Miami at home and Cleveland there," he said. "Coming off of those two now you are playing the Steelers but you are catching them at a time when they have a lot of people injured as well – a couple of offensive linemen dinged up, a couple running backs still hurting. If you are going to catch them this is one you would have to put down as a win.
"From the Steelers standpoint, they are 2-3 and haven't won one on the road, they have injuries they are going to have to deal with but they are going to have to piece it together enough to get a win. Otherwise they are 2-4 and in a tough spot."
No question Collinsworth doesn't mind seeing the hometown team do well. But ever the broadcaster, he won't answer what the Bengals need to get over the top. You'll have to watch Sunday night.
"I don't want to give away all my tricks of the trade here," he said with the Huck Finn smile. "I think they're a good team. I think they're a young team. Obviously they could use somebody on the other side to make some plays opposite A.J. Green. I don't think that's any great mystery."
Good timing. Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has been talking about getting more snaps for young receivers like Marvin Jones and Ryan Whalen.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Running back Brian Leonard (rib) didn't work again Friday and didn't practice all week and has been classified as doubtful, heightening speculation Leonard is going to be inactive and Daniel Herron might get the call from the practice squad. But head coach Marvin Lewis after practice left all his options open.
He said Leonard could still play even though that would be a rarity for someone that didn't practice all week. He also said the Bnegals could go into the game with just three backs counting fullback Chris Pressley if Leonard was inactive. And he said they could also call somebody up from the practice squad.
Wide receiver Armon Binns (ankle) was classified as questionable after going limited Friday as was cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick even though he was full go all week, but he just came back to practice a couple of weeks ago. Everyone else was probable and went full, except linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy when he went limited Friday before surfacing on the injury report
» The Steelers ruled out their top two running backs from Sunday's game, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, to go along with strong safety Troy Polamalu and right tackle Macus Gilbert. Even though center Maurkice Pouncey (knee) has been limited and is questionable, he's expected to play.
Running back Jonathan Dwyer, a sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech in 2010, is expected to get his first NFL start in his 12th NFL game. The 5-11, 229-pound Dwyer has some pop and speed. He's got 70 yards on 24 carries this season and his next run will be his 50th NFL attempt. He popped a 76-yarder last season against Tennessee before injuring his foot and missing the last four games. He fumbled against Oakland on Sept. 23 and hasn't played since.
» Lewis has answered the call for Sunday's Orange Out at Paul Brown Stadium in which fans are urged to attend the sellout wearing orange. The team will be wearing its orange Nike jerseys and putting its 13-3 orange record on the line.
» Did you know? St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter, who homered the other night in the NLCS, hit a homer off Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the Texas high school baseball playoffs?
"I was a sophomore and I just got called up to the varsity," Dalton said before Friday's practice. "We were losing by about 10 or 12 runs and it was my first varsity game. He probably hit an 82-mile-per-hour fastball way out to centerfield. But I had two strikeouts."
Both ended up at Texas Christian and whenever they crossed paths, the dinger was always the topic of discussion.