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Time to hand Madden's crown to Collinsworth

By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2003

With the fading of John Madden, now more Monday night caricature and Madison Avenue pitchman than innovative commentator, dulled by too many bromides and bus rides, the NFL's new champion TV analyst is Cris Collinsworth.

My opinion ... my point.

There is a trait germane to what Howard Cosell loathingly termed "jockocracy." Retiring athletes being immediately cast as network yaps, but with minds and hearts so incurably entwined with locker-room mentalities that their broadcasting opinions never become credible.

Pat Summerall did manage.

Sterling Sharpe tries hard.

Steve Young is getting there.

Howie Long does well.

But a majority of jock announcers strains to remain too cozy with guys still wearing NFL uniforms, as well as coaches. Trying to keep the high-fives going and avoid sneers. All of which means TV audiences are frequently and generously served commentary that is more velvet-gloved than bare-knuckled.

Collinsworth talks beyond the NFL box. He lets fly from a wise, intuitive, courageous, emotional, idealistic gut. Like last weekend when he appropriately lambasted Giants defenders for reacting with macho stupidity to 49ers taunts, robbing New York of penalty yards and maybe even a win that would've promoted Big Blue to today's playoff extravaganza against Tampa Bay.

Telling it like it is.

During the 1979 season, when Collinsworth was a UF junior, I regularly observed the budding of an honest, full-bore analyst. Cris was the best player on a lousy bunch of Gators. They went 0-10-1 but after every game, while teammates groaned or sulked, the skinny wide receiver from Brevard County was an ever-available, ever-candid, ever-eloquent spokeskid who repeatedly filled journalist notebooks.

Collinsworth is an elongated piece of college football trivia. He came to the Gators as a quarterback. As a 1977 freshman, Cris threw to Derrick Gaffney on a 99-yard touchdown play against Rice, a feat that cannot be surpassed.

Lindy Infante, a former UF halfback then on Cincinnati's coaching staff and later Green Bay's coach, pushed the Bengals into drafting Collinsworth. Cris was a good wideout but an even better quote. His transition to broadcasting, unlike so many others, was a natural.

Collinsworth's meaty insights and brave candor urge Troy Aikman, a second-year Fox commentator who quarterbacked Dallas to three Super Bowl wins, to higher plateaus of meaningful opinion.

Teamed with the great Jack Buck's gifted play-by-play heir, Joe, the Cris-Troy tandem is fun and dependable to the ear, but it may be too much to hope thatjockocracy is making a sharp turn toward deeper broadcasting professionalism.

FOUL!: NFL zebras aren't the only ones who goof. Me too. Last month, I delivered a joking comment about baseball whiz Nomar Garciaparra becoming engaged to soccer ace Mia Hamm. What I should've added was that the comment came from Washington Times columnist Dan Daly. Credit him for a funny bit and Mizell for the bad judgment of not saying so. My apologies to him and to Times readers.

BLITZES: I'm convinced this is the year Phil Mickelson wins a major championship and nudges closer to Tiger Woods to create a two-bedroom golf penthouse. ...Just as George W. Bush has been documented as our best-conditioned president ever, Herman Edwards of the Jets has to be the best-conditioned coach ever; a workout fanatic I saw, three hours before Green Bay kickoff, during his time as a Tony Dungy sidekick with the Bucs, repeatedly running up and down Lambeau Field steps. ...A cliche that seems to be fading is, "Defense wins championships," as NFL passes fly like moths at a nighttime picnic, with wild-card weekend's games being won by teams scoring 39-36-27-41 as Sunday quarterbacks achieved extreme air yardages of 429-367-342-331....Dieting is a game of inches. ...Maybe it's just as well the Giants are gone, because there couldn't have been enough TV cameras or spicy mustard to cover both those old UM hot dogs, Warren Sapp and Jeremy Shockey.

Whatever happened to Roy Gerela?

-- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.

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