"It's as close as I've come," he says. And Cincinnati, he says, is his idea of what a "big city" ought to be. Friendly. Fun. Safe at night. Here, he says, "I'm enjoying football more than ever. It's like a regular job now. Practice. Go home. Watch The Waltons. Do a little reading. Watch Love Boat. Play the games on Sunday. Play golf with the guys on Tuesday. In college I had two full-time jobs. School and football. I was humpin' all the time."
Nevertheless, he says, he has applied to Florida's law school and will start classes in the off-season.
"I've got the chance now to be the best football player I can be, and that's what I want. But after that, in 10 years or so, I'll want to do other things. Try courtroom cases, competing there. Like Perry Mason. Maybe get into politics. There are opportunities in life and you have to take advantage of 'em. My senior year at Florida I was invited to the Hula Bowl. Then I got an invitation to a game in Japan. I went to Japan. How many times does anybody get the chance to go to Japan?"
There is a remarkable, even wonderful consistency to the opinions people close to Cris Collinsworth have about this remarkable young man. If being beloved is a legitimate goal in life, then Collins-worth has already got it made. By every external evaluation, he is a young man so comfortable with the world about him that he can deal with success (and infrequent failure) with stunning candor and still come away not only undiminished but also enhanced.
He delights those who know him. Friends and family praise his basic goodness and caring; coaches and peers praise his ability and equanimity and his contagious good humor. They all say the same significant thing: When he isn't around, they miss him.
On a recent Friday afternoon, two neighborhood couples joined Abe and Donetta Collinsworth at the Collinsworths' middle-class brick-faced home in Mims, packed up a motor home and drove the 14 hours to New Orleans to see Cris play against the Saints. One of the neighbors said it was nothing unusual: "He was always the kind of kid you'd go out of your way to be around." Donetta Collinsworth, onetime balloon buster of bigheaded sprint stars and now the family's tennis ace, has made several trips to Cincinnati, ostensibly to help Cris find a car and a place to live, and "to keep his diet from getting completely out of hand." Typically, she says, whenever she sees him he is doing two things at once. "The last time he was watching a game on television, but he had the sound off and was reading a copy of Gordon Liddy's book, Will. He could talk to you about either one of them."
Abe Collinsworth says he cannot remember Cris ever getting down on himself for very long. At those times when you think he would be down he usually wound up "making you feel good. When Florida switched him to wide receiver, I called and told him he could come home if he wanted, maybe transfer. I knew it was eatin' him up, not being a quarterback anymore. He said, 'Dad, I came here to play football for Florida, not to play quarterback.' "
Dickey was fired at Florida before Collinsworth blossomed as a receiver. The beneficiary was Pell, who calls Collinsworth's contributions in 1979 and '80 "the best leadership I've ever been associated with. You miss that when you don't have it." Cris came to Pell when the Gators were losing in '79 and volunteered "to play anything—fullback, tailback, tight end. Anything to contribute. He was our best player, the most dangerous back we had, and we couldn't get the ball to him.
"Unfortunately, moving him wouldn't have changed our luck. But that kind of unselfishness, that concept of giving, is a rare thing in a great player. I know our younger kids learned from Cris. [Sports Information Director] Norm Carlson says they used to eavesdrop at his locker when the writers came around after a game, listening to him praise the other players, never putting himself on a pedestal." Carlson has been telling Collinsworth since his sophomore year that "he'll be governor of Florida in 20 years. He thinks I'm kidding, but I'm not."
Athletically, the edge that now makes Collinsworth a favorite for AFC Rookie of the Year is that "unique ability to give 100 percent all the time," says Pell. "There are guys who can run as fast, leap as high and catch as well. But to give 100 percent all the time, that's unique. Even in practice, if the play calls for him to go 35 yards and break at a 30-degree angle, that's precisely what he does. All out, all the time."