For a time Cincinnati Coach Forrest Gregg was concerned Collinsworth's size would be a liability in the bump-and-run of the NFL. "I was wrong," says Gregg. "After the first preseason game, I knew he was tough enough. He gets laid out, but he bounces back up." Receiver Coach Lindy Infante, himself an ex-Florida halfback who lobbied for Collins-worth as the team's No. 1 draft choice but was outvoted, says Cris's toughness is a kind peculiar to receivers: "They have to be mentally tough to go into areas where they know they'll be taking abuse. Collinsworth has that." Says backup Quarterback Jack Thompson: "He'll sell out his body to get the ball."
General Manager Paul Brown compares Collinsworth with his alltime best with Cleveland, Dub Jones. "He's built like Jones, he's intelligent, and he's a sprinter," says Brown. McInally calls Collinsworth "a natural. He plays like he's been here five years." Says Gregg, "He's far ahead of any rookie I've ever coached. I don't think there's a limit on how good he can be."
The phone is ringing in Cris Collinsworth's three-story $70,000 townhouse his mom helped find at Woodlyn View on Cincinnati's east side. Cris is ignoring it. He is lolling on the couch in front of the fireplace and complaining mildly that without a training table and without a mom to cook for him, he will have to make a lunch stop at McDonald's again. He says he suffers a lot these days from indigestion.
On the wall near the fireplace is a framed glass replica of the Cadillac logo, with the inscription, "The standard of the world." Cris says Jeannie gave it to him because his nickname at Florida was "Cadillac." But for the wrong reasons. "I was trying on helmets my first year there and I couldn't get one to fit. Van Jones, a lineman, said, 'You got a Cadillac head.' Not very flattering, actually."
He says his development as a receiver wasn't as painless as people think. That it wouldn't have occurred at all were it not for an assistant coach at Florida named Lee McGriff. "When I first switched over about the only thing I could catch was my breath," Collinsworth says. "I swear, it was two weeks before I could catch the routine pass. They called me 'Old Stone Hands.' Coach McGriff—I owe him so much. He worked me to death on techniques. 'Give with it,' he'd say. 'Watch it into your hands.' "
Collinsworth admits he really doesn't get just those "dollar ninety-eight routes over the middle that get your chin busted open," that he just says that "for fun" after a game to entertain the press. Gregg's sophisticated passing attack makes the split end, flankers and slotback positions interchangeable this year, says Cris, and "everybody's seeing the ball." In 14 games so far for the Bengals he has caught 54 passes for 791 yards, which makes him not only the team's leading wide receiver but also the top rookie receiver in the NFL.
When it's time to head for practice, he gets into the light-blue Porsche 924 Mom helped pick out, and which still smells of newness, and backs jerkily out of the parking area. He engages Jimmy Buffett in the tape deck and adjusts a pair of glasses around his ears. He says the glasses keep him from being "blind." He says he found out about it when he was looking for excuses for his grades in chemistry at Florida. One eye tested at 20/200. "But as far as the chemistry was concerned, glasses were not the problem."
He says he has his route to the Bengals' practice field down to the minute, allowing just enough time for a stop to pick up a fish sandwich and a Big Mac to eat on the way. He says with the Bobcat he didn't dare cut it that thin. One breakdown cost him $50 for being late to practice. He says it didn't wreck his budget, not the way it would have before "they started throwing all this money at me."
He says he now has an attorney friend in Florida investing for him. "I'm big in warehouses," he says, grinning.
He says he doesn't think money can change him at all, really, but it sure has been fun finding out.