A line of great lines. From left to right, Bob Trumpy, Solomon Wilcots, Cris Collinsworth, and Dave Lapham speak to the National Sports Forum Sunday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
The greatest Green Room in the history of the Orange and Black gathered in a Paul Brown Stadium suite Sunday night.
As Cris Collinsworth walked through the door, Dave Lapham, Bob Trumpy, and Solomon Wilcots broke like Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler on the ball in last week's Super Bowl. Four of the best analysts in the game couldn't wait to hash over Collinsworth's call on NBC of Butler's goal-line interception in the dying seconds of one of the greatest championship games ever played and the most watched event in American history.
"Great call, great call," said Trumpy, who should know, since he called four of his own Super Bowls. "I never had one like that. Everyone a blowout."
Trumpy not only worked the Big Game, he also eased The Baritone through three Ryder Cups and three Olympics before retiring into the announcer's wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Collinsworth, who leaves the Emmys every year with a briefcase, would turn to Wilcots later in the evening and ask the ever-present CBS and NFL Network analyst if he was really on 25 shows because that's what it seems like. Lapham, heading into his 30th season mixing unbridled enthusiasm with razor analytics in the Bengals radio booth, became a Cincinnati icon about 1,000 Marty Brennaman's This One Belongs to the Reds ago.
They were cooling their heels before participating in a panel discussion that capped the Bengals' reception for the National Sports Forum's annual convention of about 700 sales and marketing reps from the world of pro sports.
No one has to be sold on the fact that Collinsworth nailed it. No sooner had Butler's knees hit the ground with the confounding interception from the New England half-yard line when he said what the country was thinking.
"I can't believe the call," he had exclaimed. "If I lose this Super Bowl because (running back) Marshawn Lynch can't get into the end zone, so be it. So be it. I can't believe the call."
Lapham, the Bengals left guard 33 Super Bowls ago, said he immediately flashed back to the 49ers stoning the Bengals on the goal-line stand that robbed Cincinnati of its last, best hope in Super Bowl XVI. The Lynch-like Pete Johnson and his 12 TDs couldn't budge the line on three tries.
"I haven't watched either of those Super Bowls,' admitted Collinsworth, the Bengals rookie Pro Bowl wide receiver in their first Super Bowl who played his last NFL game in Super Bowl XXIII seven years later and had his heart broken in both.
While Wilcots wondered why Seattle didn't get its two best offensive players involved in an option concept where quarterback Russell Wilson read Lynch, Lapham wondered if Wilson had the experience of Tom Brady if he would have changed the play at the line.
Collinsworth is still amazed at the irony of Wilson's crazy 33-yard completion to Jermaine Kearse with 1:06 left seemed to let the Patriots defense dictate the rest of the game after the Seattle offense had to use its second timeout to get re-adjusted.
"Total gut," Collinsworth said of his call. "If you had been sitting on my couch, you would have heard me say the same thing. I don't think I was alone in thinking that. Sometimes your gut gets you in trouble. But in the Super Bowl you just have to say, 'What the heck, I'm going to go out there and fire my bullets like I'm in a regular-season game and where it falls, it falls."
Later as he moderated the panel, Lapham saluted Collinsworth. He recalled how the toughest thing to swallow about that 26-21 Super loss to the Niners in Detroit was how the best Bengals team of all-time probably played its worst game of the season. But last Sunday, his old teammate responded in the moment.
"The biggest moment. That's big," Lapham said.
It was just one of the many exchanges that made the 40-minute discussion lively fare, ranging from the impact of Bengals founder Paul Brown to the future media coverage of his game. Brown, as he is in most everything that is pro football after World War II, is the common thread for all four of them.
Trumpy, the game's first modern tight end who gobbled passes like a wide receiver, played for Brown. So did Lapham. As general manager, Brown rejected Collinsworth in the first round, so the story goes, because of his scrawny stripped-to-the-shorts scouting combine photo, but the legend took him in the second. Wilcots started at free safety on Paul's last playoff team, the '90 Bengals, and believes the P.B. thread through the quartet isn't just a coincidence.
"He wanted smart guys,' Wilcots said in the green room. "He wanted guys that were always attentive in meetings and in practice and in games, obviously. Remember, it was also Paul Brown who instituted team meetings before taking the practice field…he brought a professorial element to the game. Coaches became teachers and players became more informed, more enlightened. That's something we share in common."
Collinsworth told the panel that even though Brown's fingerprints are all over the modern game's fundamentals, such as classrooms and assistant coaches, what he'll be remembered for most is integrating pro football.
"I heard Jim Brown talk about it. It was no different than any other player," Collinsworth said of the great Cleveland running back, whose feuds with Paul were one of the issues that led to his still-hot-to-the-touch ouster as Browns head coach. "He just had (players) on the team. He didn't even talk about it. He wouldn't say anything about it.
"It was a fact that this guy was better than this guy, so we put this guy on the team. Despite some of the differences with Paul Brown, Jim Brown has enormous respect for Paul Brown because he just treated (guys) like any other player and at that time it was unheard of."
Trumpy, a 12th-round pick in that seminal American year of 1968, also found out Paul Brown transcended events.
"In the late '60s, there was turmoil everywhere but on Pau Brown's football team,' Trumpy said. "That's one of the greatest things looking back on it now as a grandfather and great grandfather. That he put into words and put into action on a daily basis. ..He protected us from the hippie riots and everything that was going on. That's him. 'We are doing this… If you want to wear tie die shirts, we can find a guy who likes button downs and he can take your spot.'"
By the time the '70s rolled around, Wilcots believes Brown made one of his most lasting contributions. As a member of the NFL Competition Committee, Brown pushed through the five-yard rule where defensive backs couldn't touch receivers five yards down the field.
"The passing game opened up," said Wilcots, one of the defensive backs that have suffered the consequences since. "The quarterbacks have thrown for more yards and touchdowns and the games are a lot more exciting."
Which has all helped lead to this; the 114.4 million people who listened to Collinsworth make the call. He says with TV now so fractured and specialized, sports, especially the Super Bowl, are pretty much the only avenue left for advertisers on TV. The NFL, he says, isn't over exposed. Indeed, he says, it may just be getting started.
Collinsworth has bobbed and weaved with the biggest actors and politicians and musicians the nation can offer and he's always amazed how the conversation always comes back to football.
"I think it's going to get bigger. I just don't know of anything else out there that can command half the country," Collinsworth said. "(With) my (acquaintances) all I want do is talk about their acting career or talk about the world of politics or the world of business, and the whole table is talking about the NFL. Sometimes you kind of sit back and say, 'Are they serious?' The most interesting people in the world and they all have to know something about the Tennessee Titans or whomever. I'm always blown away by the interest.
"It's on 24-7. NFL Network, ESPN, NFL Radio," he said. "They say we've reached the saturation point. No we haven't, which is frightening."
Wilcots expects the league to become even more available with even more gadgets.
"We'll be able to see any game, anywhere any time," said Wilcots, who believes games on radio and TV are going to become more interactive. "How many of you would like to see a camera inside the quarterback helmet of whatever he's looking at whenever he throws the ball?"
Collinsworth had to give his head a boys-will-be-boys shake on that one.
"I'd like to see what the quarterback sees after the game," he said. "I've been in bars with quarterbacks after games and it's pretty good."
But he hears Wilcots when he says, "its coming."
Trumpy told the panel he was there at the dawn of the 1980s when in a conversation with NBC execs then NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle spoke of his dream of "wall-to-wall,' football on Sundays.
"It happened three times this year,' Trumpy said of the London games. "There were games at 9:15 in the morning, 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m."
But Trumpy would like to put the brakes on one facet of a game that is seemingly evolving at Star Wars speed.
"Super slow motion hurts the game. The game is not played in super slow motion. But calls are made by officials in super slow motion," Trumpy told the panel. "I see the catches that are taken away from receivers who catch the ball, but they hit the ground, roll over and the ball comes out…If you're down there and see how big and fast they are and the things they do…I just don't like super slow motion (when) the instant replays deny great plays by great players."
Paul Brown's Green Room has spoken as you might expect. With a lot of vision and some logic as his game keeps jetting into the 2020s.