Hanging up the cleats after a 15-year playing career and going directly into sports broadcasting can be quite daunting, but no one has transitioned as seamlessly as Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Cris Collinsworth. Becoming synonymous with immense energy, the expertise of breaking down a play with precision, and the smoothest entrance to a broadcast in the business, the 17-time Sports Emmy Award winner — nine as a game analyst and eight as a studio analyst — is one of the most accomplished talent in sports television.
“Cris is among the best to ever work as an analyst on any sport,” says NBCUniversal Media Group Chairman Mark Lazarus. “He has a truckload of Emmys for his work, but he also happens to be a great friend to many — a giving person who belongs in any Hall of Fame. His inclusion in the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame is long overdue.”
Collinsworth was born in the official birthplace of aviation: Dayton, OH. Immediately, Collinsworth took flight into a life in sports at an early age. Parented by a pair of educators — his mother Donetta, a teacher, and his father Abraham, a teacher turned principal turned superintendent — he took after his father’s athletic pedigree. Abraham was a standout star on the hardwood: he completed his high school career as one of the top scorers in Kentucky high-school basketball history and eventually enrolled in the University of Kentucky, where he won the 1958 national championship over Seattle University. The Collinsworths eventually moved to the state of Florida when Cris was four
years old, and 10 years later, he attended Astronaut High School in Titusville, FL. With the school being separated by only the Indian River from nearby Kennedy Space Center, he continued his knack for upward trajectory. His most notable achievements include winning the state championship in the 100-yard-dash and being named a high-school All-American quarterback in his senior year in 1976.
With his prowess on the field, Collinsworth earned a scholarship to play college football at a top SEC school 158 miles northwest of home: the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL. Despite his quarterback career only lasting his freshmen season, Collinsworth’s best collegiate touchdown happened on his first ever throwing attempt in a Gators uniform. The play in the fourth quarter against Rice University on Sept. 17, 1977, resulted in a 99-yard pass, which is still one of the longest touchdown passes in college football history. In his sophomore season, he moved to wide receiver and ended his college career with three First Team All-SEC selections (1978-1980) and a First Team All-American selection in 1980.
With the Cincinnati Bengals drafting him in the second round of the 1981 NFL Draft, Collinsworth enjoyed a reunion of sorts with his home state with all eight years of his professional career being played in the Queen City. His time in the orange-and-black stripes saw numerous highs, including the then-rookie receptions record with 67 (the total was tied by Tee Higgins in 2020 and broken by Ja’Marr Chase the following year
with 81), four 1,000-yard seasons, three consecutive Pro Bowls from 1981-1983, and two Super Bowl appearances (Super Bowl XVI in 1982 and Super Bowl XXIII in 1989)..
With his playing days in the rearview mirror, and a short stint as a sports radio talk show host at WLW in Cincinnati, he made his break into the
big time as a reporter on HBO’s Inside the NFL in 1989. After one year, Collinsworth experienced his first taste of NBC Sports when he joined as an analyst for the network’s NFL and college football broadcasts with play-by-play commentator Tom Hammond in 1990. Collinsworth would shift to the NFL on NBC pregame show with host Greg Gumbel, analysts Joe Gibbs and Mike Ditka, and reporter Ahmad Rashad in 1996. A young Rob Hyland, who is now the coordinating producer of NBC’s Sunday Night Football, would join the same company in 1997 as Collinsworth started hitting his stride as a reliable voice behind the microphone.
“Cris is one of the most honest and fearless broadcasters of our generation,” says Hyland. “He is curious, thoughtful, and has a great sense of humor, which all play into his unique ability to make football’s most complicated intricacies understandable and enjoyable for 20 million people every Sunday night. With his tireless work making sure we are prepared for every potential scenario, Cris makes everyone he works with better.”
With NBC Sports losing their media rights to the NFL in 1998, he joined Fox Sports as an analyst on Fox NFL Sunday. Opting for a return to the booth, he paired up with Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Joe Buck in his first year as lead play-by-play commentator and a recently retired Troy Aikman in 2002. Three years later at Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, Collinsworth would work his first Super Bowl as a broadcaster. In 2006, Collinsworth’s stock would rise as he was seen on three separate networks during the NFL season: as co-host of HBO’s Inside the NFL, as a studio analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America, and as a color commentator for live games on the then three-year-old NFL Network. For many, this is where Collinsworth’s success shines the brightest.
“Cris is everything you think of when you call someone a Hall of Famer because he is the rare person in this industry who excelled both in the booth and in the studio,” says NBC
Sunday Night Football play-by-play commentator Mike Tirico. “Despite being off the field for more than 30 years, he remains as cutting-edge and current as any analyst in the sport, thanks to his unmatched work ethic.”
Following the announcement that Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer John Madden would retire from his illustrious broadcasting career in 2009, Collinsworth was tapped as his replacement. He’d be matched up with Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Al Michaels, and after their first regular season game between the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 10, 2009, the duo went on a magical run of dominance.
“He was a dream partner for thirteen years that were filled with pure joy,” says Michaels. “No one has ever been more prepared, and his ability to analyze everything on the fly and always read the room never ceased to amaze me. His never-wavering loyalty is another of his strong suits, and off the air, Cris was great company. I will always think of him as a brother – the best of the best.”
From Collinsworth’s introduction in 2009 until 2021, NBC’s Sunday Night Football won 11 Sports Emmy Awards for Outstanding Live Sports Series, including five consecutive trophies from 2009-2013.
“What elevates Cris as a broadcaster is the ability to educate viewers by explaining the ‘why,’” says NBC Sports Executive Producer & President, Production, Sam Flood. “His unmatched game preparation, ease in storytelling, and ability to not take himself too seriously come across every Sunday. You can tell he’s having fun in the booth. At the end of the night, viewers are smarter because Cris was calling the game.”
Despite being the hardest worker in the room, Collinsworth’s on-air success has been aided greatly by the support and guidance of the production team in the truck. From 2006 to 2022, the legendary team of 24-time Emmy Award-winning producer Fred Gaudelli and 19-time Emmy Award-winning director Drew Esocoff — both Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famers — were a key catalyst in turning the primetime package into a perennial broadcast juggernaut.
“His understanding of the audience and the desire to give them real and honest information rises above the rest,” says Gaudelli. “Cris’s commentary is formed by thoughtful reflection, research, experience, and conversation. He works for the viewer and no one else. Cris was and still is integral to the success of Sunday Night Football and it’s no stretch to say the show would not have achieved its acclaim without his contributions.”
Now, in his 15th season of entertaining NFL fans on Sunday night, the team surrounding Collinsworth has changed a bit. Behind the scenes, Gaudelli is now working in an executive producer role. In front of the camera, Michaels is on the call for Amazon Prime’s exclusive coverage of Thursday Night Football. With the second full seasons with Tirico as the lead voice in the Sunday Night Football booth and Melissa Stark as the main sideline reporter, Collinsworth has become the veteran of the broadcast team.
“Cris is so thorough and detailed and leaves no stone unturned,” says Stark. “Quick witted, down to earth, and genuine, he’s so much fun to work with.”