Collinsworth can't fill Madden's shoes

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Brian Lowry

A media columnist and critic for Variety since 2003, Brian Lowry spent seven years at the L.A. Times and has contributed to both NPR and TV Guide Network. He writes weekly for FOX Sports. A UCLA alum, Lowry proudly attended the '95 title game. MORE>>

Beyond the comic-book sound effects (boom! pow!), grunts and best-selling video game, John Madden was a pretty astute football analyst. So the kickoff to a new NFL season seemed as good a time as any to revisit how his replacement, Cris Collinsworth, is faring filling those sizable shoes.


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People have already seen a lot of Collinsworth in the opening week of the NFL campaign. Thursday’s Vikings-Saints showdown on NBC drew the largest audience for a regular-season game in 14 years, averaging an estimated 27.5 million viewers. Collinsworth and play-by-play guy Al Michaels were back at it three days later with another high-profile and hard-fought Sunday Night Football matchup, the Cowboys and Redskins, which -- with more than 25 million viewers -- ranks as the highest-rated SNF ever.

Michaels is as smooth and authoritative as announcers come, and NBC also has Bob Costas on the pre-game and halftime shows. They elevate the former players and coaches around them, including Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison, even if the studio coverage — which pointlessly keeps the camera on a perpetual swivel — makes me feel seasick.

Before he filled this new seat, one newspaper called Collinsworth the “anti-Madden,” which isn’t really correct. He’s fine with X’s and O’s — identifying Dallas’ unproven offensive line before Sunday’s game, for example, then returning to that as the Cowboys struggled and made a slew of mistakes, including a holding penalty that cost them the game on its final play.

His problem, rather, is that he simply doesn’t provide much color, in the sense that originally gave these jobs their name.

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Madden’s gift was the ability to be colorful and shrewdly analytical all it once. Cut through his rhapsodizing about linemen wallowing in mud, and he could still point out where a defense was vulnerable.

To his credit, Collinsworth doesn’t get in the way of the game, as some analysts do, and he can be economical, which is always welcome. When a Saints lineman threw a crushing block setting up a touchdown, all Collinsworth said was, “Goodbye, everybody.” He’s also willing to call out players who screw up and, in the Dallas game, catch an obvious hold the referees missed.

Still, Collinsworth seems so preoccupied with recognizing such intricacies on every play he sometimes misses the bigger picture — and doesn’t seem terribly interested in pursuing meaty topics that deviate from picking up the next first down.

That was apparent during the Saints-Vikings game, when the subject of New Orleans star Reggie Bush and questions about his forfeiting the Heisman Trophy he collected at USC arose.



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Collinsworth said he talked to Bush and the running back was “embarrassed about what he did to his university and upset.” But questions still linger as to exactly how much blame Bush has assumed for the NCAA sanctions — and how much he has admitted about taking improper benefits. Was Collinsworth really quoting him directly or just pulling that out of his, er, ear? Who knows? The conversation quickly moved onward, if not upward.

Indeed, the most cogent analysis all night Sunday belonged to Michaels, after the Cowboys gave up a defensive touchdown on the first half’s last play.

“Of all the wacky plays to call with four seconds to go,” he roared, accurately. “What’s the upside?” Collinsworth could have gone to town with the stupidity of that play — which ultimately proved the difference — but scarcely revisited it.

Perhaps appropriately, the latest version of Madden’s video game is being promoted as “Simpler. Quicker. Deeper.” Collinsworth meets those first two adjectives, but nobody will ever confuse him with that last one.

More than any other position in sports, “Your quarterback has to have some magic to him,” Collinsworth said during the pre-game.

At their best, so do your color guys, which explains why Madden was so revered, even when his shtick wore a little thin. Collinsworth is competent and occasionally insightful about game plans. For all his assets, though, magic clearly isn’t in his bag of tricks.

Tagged: Saints, Reggie Bush

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