Collinsworth on being a modern athletic rarity, a four-sport (football, basketball, baseball, track) star at Astronaut High in Titusville, the metropolis of 31,494 people adjacent to Mims: "It's not just the games themselves that attract me, it's the people. Being involved in pressure situations with somebody else. That's the reason I love sports so much. I love to watch boxing for that reason. I love to watch the girl gymnasts on that four-inch beam. Competing under pressure. The Carter-Reagan debates had me on the edge of my chair."
Collinsworth on being recruited as a quarterback by Alabama (among many others) before winding up at the University of Florida, where he was both a football and an academic All-America in 1980: "I went into Coach Bryant's office. His desk sits way up high, and the couch you sit on is way down low, and it's like facing the Supreme Court. He talks so deep you can't always understand him. So every time he said something I said, 'Yessir.' It must have been right because he offered me a scholarship. Joe Namath called the house. My mom answered the phone. She thinks Namath is the coolest thing around, and she talked to him about 30 minutes. She advised him to get married and settle down. Finally, he said, 'Can I speak with Cris now, Mrs. Collinsworth?' She said, 'Oh, I'm sorry, Joe. He's sleeping.' I never did get to talk to Namath."
Collinsworth on the only major disappointments of his young life: "My freshman year at Florida I threw a 99-yard touchdown pass against Rice, the longest pass in Florida history. I had my future planned. I'd be an All-America my junior year, and win the Heisman my senior. You gotta have goals. The next spring Coach (Doug) Dickey went to the I formation and discovered my true ability as a passing quarterback. A disease called 'lack of spiral.' I was nothing-for-about-50 in the spring game. They switched me to wide receiver. I changed my goals.
"My junior year Coach (Charlie) Pell came in, and we didn't win a game. We were 0-10-1. Teachers told jokes about us. Students wanted to know why we had scholarships. Until then I always felt that out of 11 games I could win at least one by myself. It taught me something. About that time I became a Christian. I'm not going to be a minister or anything, but it straightened out my thinking, realizing there's more to life than winning football games."
Collinsworth on playing what is now stereotyped as a black man's position, and being compared only with white receivers (Lance Alworth et al.): "I see myself as someone who has to grit his teeth and scratch for everything he does. I can't get out there and prance around. But I don't believe you're fast or slow because you're black or white, and you don't have to pattern yourself after somebody your own color. I want to be the best, and the best I see nowadays are guys like Swann and Jefferson and Nat Moore and Wes Chandler. I want to be as good as them.
"When I won the state [Class-AAA] 100-yard dash championship in high school [in 10 flat], 16 guys were in the heats, and 15 were black. You talk about your lone honkie. Up in the stands, all the relatives were betting like mad on the finals. My brother Greg heard them asking who that white boy was. Greg said, 'Bet the white boy.' The black guy next to him said, 'You sure?' Greg said, 'Positively.' The guy got great odds. My big schnozzola won it for me, and the guy slipped Greg 20 bucks out of his winnings."
Collinsworth on becoming a Bengal after being drafted in the second round behind another wide receiver, David Verser of Kansas: "I was more scared about making the team than anything else. They picked Verser, and they already had Isaac Curtis, Pat McInally and Steve Kreider. There weren't many openings left. I think the fear of being rejected helped me a lot. I was geared up. One day in camp I must have done something good, because they put me at No. 1. I said to myself, 'Well, you gone and done it now. You'll have to kill me to get me out of here.' "
Collinsworth on being easily identifiable as no Arnold Schwarzenegger: "One of the scouting reports said I might not be physical enough to play in the NFL. I could understand that. My skinny ol' body won't win any prizes. When I took the [NFL] physicals, I couldn't believe some of those linemen. The receivers were ashamed to take off their shirts. But if the guy who said that would like to line up across from me, I'd be glad to show him how physical I can be."
Collinsworth on discovering he could, after all, survive the gauntlets of the NFL: "My first catch against the Steelers was a crossing route—the kind where they see what kind of man you are. It's the kind of route all us honkies run. I just went out and put a little move on [Mel] Blount, and Kenny Anderson drilled the ball right in for about 22 yards. From then on I was O.K. I had done stepped into the lion's den and come out alive."
Collinsworth on discovering that it wouldn't always be that easy: "The [Buffalo] linebacker rammed his helmet up under my chin and split it open, four stitches worth. It was gross. Blood flying all over the place, a big chunk of chin falling onto the carpet. But my coach at Astronaut, Jay Donnelly, always said never show 'em you're hurt because that gives 'em a psychological advantage. So I got up and kind of flung the ball behind me, and it hit the linebacker right in the head."