Q&A: Cris Collinsworth recalls torturous Super Bowl losses with Bengals, who get third try

Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth (80) fumbles the ball during Super Bowl XVI  against the 49ers in 1982.
Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth (80) fumbles the ball during Super Bowl XVI against the 49ers in 1982. San Francisco won the game at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan 26-21.
(Tony Tomsic)

NBC’s Cris Collinsworth has watched so much NFL video in his career as his network’s top color analyst that it could be calculated in years. Counting his career as a Cincinnati Bengals receiver, you could wrap the globe in all the film and video he’s seen.

But there’s something he still won’t watch: his two Super Bowls as a player.

Collinsworth entered the NFL in 1981, when the Bengals ended the season with a Super Bowl loss to San Francisco, and retired in 1988 after a second loss to the 49ers on the NFL’s biggest stage.


Still can’t bear to look.

“You’re thrilled you’re in it,” Collinsworth told The Los Angeles Times this week. “It’s obviously a résumé kind of thing to say you were in two Super Bowls, but the reality of it is, I’ve never watched either game. I can’t. Just can’t make myself watch either one. I probably don’t remember details of it to the extent that I’m sure fans or other people who were around football can.”

What’s more, he won’t wear either of the AFC championship rings he won.

San Francisco  safety Ronnie Lott (42) stops Cincinnati  receiver Cris Collinsworth during Super Bowl XXIII in 1989 at Miami.
San Francisco safety Ronnie Lott (42) stops Cincinnati receiver Cris Collinsworth during Super Bowl XXIII in 1989 at Miami. The 49ers won 20-16.
(Peter Read Miller/Associated Press)

“I wore one once to a party,” he said. “And I spent the entire night talking about those two miserable days of my life.

“Nobody was ever talking about the AFC championship game, or what got us to the Super Bowl. It was, ‘Oh, you guys made this mistake, and you did that.’ I put that ring in a closet and I’ve never worn it since.”

Collinsworth has plenty of thoughts on the Super Bowl LVI game between the Bengals and Rams at SoFi Stadium that he will call Sunday with play-by-play partner Al Michaels:

This Super Bowl very easily could be 49ers-Bengals for a third time in your career. Was that running through your head?

It’s funny because I was thinking that if it ended up being San Francisco, which it looked like at one point in that game then I was going, “Oh, my goodness, now the entire two weeks I’m going to have to tell stories about the two worst days of my life: losing to the 49ers in the Super Bowl.”

So, from a Bengals perspective, how do you look at this matchup against the Rams?

If the Bengals can get it protected, these are three great receivers the Bengals have. I’m not so sure that this isn’t the best collection of wide receivers in a football game that we will see all year.

Ja’Marr Chase is incredible. He’s taken more 10-yard catches and turned them into 70-yard touchdowns where not only did they not tackle him, they never touched him. So the catch-and-run possibility is very real with him. Tee Higgins looks like an NBA power forward out there on the field. He’s really big, strong, physical at the catch point. And Tyler Boyd is just a street fighter of a guy. He is their clutch, go-to guy in the most difficult of all situations. And Joe Mixon can play too.

This is an explosive offensive team. A lot of people were thinking it was going to be Kansas City against L.A., and that pass rush against Patrick Mahomes. But there’s a reason the Bengals are in this game. Because all season long, when they had to have it, these playmakers just keep making plays. Now the evolution of the defense is starting to get there as well.

Now, can they hold up against this Hall of Fame defense with Aaron Donald and Von Miller and Jalen Ramsey? I don’t know. That’s clearly been the issue when there have been issues for the Bengals. Can they get it protected?

Bengals  receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) catches an 18-yard touchdown pass as Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward (35) defends.
The Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase (1) catches an 18-yard touchdown pass as Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward (35) defends. The rookie receiver has been a touchdown maker this season.
(David Dermer / Associated Press)

When you put it that way, the receiver talent on both teams — with Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. on the other side — might make this Super Bowl unique, right?

No question. When I looked at it, that was the first thing that jumped out at me. I think that’s the way the game has evolved. Certainly you’ve got to have a top-end quarterback. But the rules being what they are, the ability to hold as an offensive lineman, these guys are going to get opportunities to get down the field.

Now when you’re talking about Donald and Miller and Leonard Floyd, holding may not be enough. You may need to tackle them in order to keep them off of Joe Burrow. But that’s what the game is. The great teams can run multiple wide receivers out there, so even if you have a Ramsey and he’s doing a job on Chase or Higgins, you still have those other threats you have to worry about.

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What kind of advantage will the Rams have playing on their home field?

We only have one sample to deal with on that, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked pretty darned good playing on their home field. But the Rams’ stadium is one of the loudest stadiums that there is. Now whether or not it will have that same feel not being a home game, I don’t know how that works from the league’s perspective as far as cranking up the noise.

But you have to remember that the Cincinnati Bengals have won this year in Pittsburgh, in Baltimore, in Kansas City and in Tennessee. So it’s not impossible to think this team’s going to have that same kind of success, despite the fact that it really is the Rams’ home stadium.

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Is it special and poetic that you’re getting to call a Bengals Super Bowl?

Yeah, it is. I know what goes with it. There’s going to be two story lines. Either I’m completely biased for the Bengals, or why do I hate the Bengals? I get that regardless. It could be any two teams. It could be the Texans and the Colts, and basically your whole goal during the broadcast is that the social media has equal amounts of, “Why do you hate this team?” or “Why do you hate that team?” Nobody is going to say, “Oh, man, what a great point Cris just made on the Cover 2 defense.” That never happens.

That’s part of it regardless. Does it get ratcheted up a little bit because it’s the team I used to play for? Maybe. I don’t know.