Virtual HOF voting resumes


Posted: 4:40 p.m.

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Truth be told, Cris Collinsworth would trade all 10 Emmys for the one Super Bowl ring he barely missed twice.

"Wait a minute," Collinsworth says. "Let me keep one. I guess I'd give nine Emmys for one."

But the most recognizable Bengal of them all only has to trade in his network visibility to make a run for a berth in the inaugural Bengals.com Virtual Hall of Fame class. Granted, he is as much of a longshot as the '88 Bengals that dominate the final ballot of 10 that goes to the fans for a month of voting that ends Fourth of July weekend.

The preliminary voting that took place in February indicates the trio of Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason and Isaac Curtis will join Bengals founder Paul Brown and Pro Football Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Muñoz in the Hall's first class.

And in keeping with the aw-shucks persona he brought in the second round of the 1981 draft, Collinsworth is befuddled that he even got nearly 6,000 votes to finish seventh behind Anderson, Esiason, Curtis, Tim Krumrie, Ken Riley and James Brooks.

"I can't believe that many people still remember that I played," says Collinsworth, who sounds like he can barely recall that when he finished his career in 1988 with 417 catches he was the franchise's all-time leading receiver.

He chalks up the popularity to the blazer that has been everywhere and done everything in the world of NFL announcing. Comedian Lewis Black once fretted, "I hope Roger Goodell can do something about Cris Collinsworth. It's out of control. Sometimes he's on three channels at once. If I don't want to suffer through Terry Bradshaw, I don't watch Fox. If I don't want to listen to Cris Collinsworth, I have to move to Bolivia and become a nun."

Collinsworth reached the papacy of all NFL announcing gigs back in April when he was named the successor to John Madden as the analyst on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" with Al Michaels.


"NBC and the league have made it clear that the big night has moved from Monday to Sunday," Collinsworth says. "All the best games are on Sunday night. When people around the country see it, the headline is that John Madden is retiring. And, oh yeah, that guy from Cincinnati is replacing him."

Collinsworth could live anywhere, of course, but he has chosen Fort Thomas, Ky., on the outskirts of Paul Brown Stadium.

Not only that, but he's the girls coach for the Highlands High School track team. Not only that, he just turned 50 and has sent one daughter to college, still has another one on the team, and his son Austin is drawing looks from schools as he heads into his senior year at Highlands' perennial football power.

And Jack, the baby, is almost in high school.

It's why Collinsworth doesn't consider himself the heir apparent to Madden, but "just a guy who is a product of Delta," he says.

"We're lucky that we can stay here close to where Holly grew up and the kids can go to the great Highlands High School," says Collinsworth of the wife he met in law school. "You talk to guys like Isaac Curtis and Anthony Muñoz and they'll tell you what a great place this is to live."

Collinsworth is emblematic of that '88 team that is so popular with fans. Not only was it the last great Bengals team, but it is filled with guys who are still relevant and highly visible with deep roots in the community.

Esiason, almost as visible as Collinsworth, is synonymous with Children's Hospital. Muñoz's charitable foundation blankets the city with good deeds. Solomon Wilcots, another high visibility guy, commutes from Anderson Township to the NFL Network and CBS. David Fulcher and Eric Thomas are all over talk radio during football season. Jim Breech sells insurance in the Westchester area and is involved in Kicks for Kids.

"I also think people just remember how close we came," says Collinsworth of that loss to the 49ers with 34 seconds left. "And they remember how fun it was. It was fun."

It gets Collinsworth to thinking. It took maybe the greatest player of all time to beat the Bengals with one of the greatest drives of all time.

"What if we go 2-0 in Super Bowls and San Francisco goes 3-2? That was real close to happening," Collinsworth says. "How would it have all been remembered?"

He certainly believes that would have solidified Anderson's spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a kingdom Collinsworth believes is best accessible through winning Super Bowls. Out of all the ex-Bengals that aren't in Canton, he believes Anderson is the guy with the best case.

"Four passing titles," he says. "And in the one game they played to get to the Super Bowl, Kenny beat Dan Fouts and he's in."

Collinsworth and Rush Limbaugh may be the two most outspoken and unforgiving guys in the media today, but Collinsworth has a soft spot for the Bengals. No question. On every Sunday in every studio, every booth, every press box, he roots for them.

"I can't wait for the day I can be just absolutely obnoxious and brag all about them going to the Super Bowl," he says. "I like the direction they're going in. The defense was better last year and it's going to be better this year and they've got Carson Palmer back. He's one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and I've been reading about the improvements of Chris Henry and it sounds like Chad (Ochocinco) is serious. I think people have been too hard on his season last year. You lose Carson Palmer in your offense and it's like the Colts losing Peyton Manning.

"It's still not out of the realm that they go to the Super Bowl a few years ago when it starts off with that (66-yard) pass on the (second) play and Carson got hurt (in the Wild Card loss to Pittsburgh). With some of those elements in place, they're going to be interesting."

A lot of people were stunned when the Bengals cut Collinsworth 20 years ago on the eve of the '89 season. Not him, and looking back on it he wonders how many Emmys there might have been if they kept him one more season.

"My knee was so messed up," he says, "and it was unbelievable what opened up in those two weeks. HBO, WLW (Sports Talk) with Bob Trumpy going more national, and NBC. I don't know if that would ever happen again."

Collinsworth has been critical of past Bengals moves. You've got to believe that a guy once quoted by the New York Daily News about a Terrell Owens birthday party ("I was invited, but they asked me to be the piñata") has had some thoughts. But he's never taken a cheap shot.

"I'll always be grateful for the opportunities they gave me on and off the field," Collinsworth says. "I was in law school while I was still playing. Everybody in that organization always treated me great and with respect."

There is a long pause when he's asked about the three votes for his Hall ballot.

"This is tough," he says. "You've got to go with Kenny and I have to go with Boomer or else I'll never hear the end of it. He threw me a lot of balls and I didn't get killed."

But No. 3 takes a little longer.

"I'm going to go off a little bit with Ken Riley," Collinsworth says. "The guy was so good for so long. And when I was a rookie, he saved me from driving all over Indiana to get a turkey."

Yes, they were doing that gag back in '81. Every Thanksgiving week the veterans set up the rookies by giving them directions to a store that is supposedly going to give them a free turkey. Of course, when they get there, no one has any idea what they're talking about.

"I was just getting in my car when Kenny gave me the heads-up," Collinsworth says. "That by itself is a reason to vote for him."

But there is also the football reason.

"Oh yeah, he showed me a lot," Collinsworth says. "He would move before I even went into my break. I'd come back from the route and say, 'How do you know that?' and he'd talk to me about it."

At age 50, with 10 Emmys, four kids, three Pro Bowls, and two Super Bowls, there's not a whole heck of a lot that Collinsworth hasn't done. But it is down to a few moments.

Here is one.

"I can't wait to wear the striped tie," he says. "I'm going to bring it out and wear it when they win the Super Bowl."

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