Cris Collinsworth is meeting the press. Cris loves to meet the press. "I enjoy the attention," he says. And the attentive press loves Cris. He is a breath of fresh air, coursing through the secondaries of the National Football League, catching passes and dropping lines, and as the surprising No. 1 wide receiver of the surprising No. 1 Cincinnati Bengals, his rookie season has been a celebration. It is Nov. 1 and the Bengals have just beaten the Houston Oilers to take a one-game lead over Pittsburgh in the AFC Central. (They still lead the division despite last week's 21-3 loss to San Francisco.) Collinsworth has contributed five catches, one for a touchdown, and has delivered a number of tenacious (if not picture-perfect) blocks. The press crowds four-deep around his locker at Riverfront Stadium, competing for position like hungry sparrows under a mother's hovering beak.
At a lanky 6'4" and 190 pounds, Collinsworth, 22, does, indeed, seem to hover—casually, amiably—over the surging sparrows of the press. The sparrows flock to him whether he catches a lot of passes or not because he makes their lives easier, not to say more enjoyable.
Ask of Cris a sentence, say the Riverfront regulars, and ye shall receive a paragraph.
Ask Cris a dumb cliché question, they say, and ye shall receive a bright, sensible and expansive answer.
And because there is no telling what might pop out when a thought leaps from his fertile mind to his facile tongue, it is best, they say, to drop by early. If you don't, you're likely to miss the meal.
Collinsworth (for example), on the heavy pressures of being a high-profile football mercenary: "I feel like I'm stealing from the Bengals. I've played football all my life for nothing and now they're paying me to do it. The money they pay me to play this game, it's just incredible."
Collinsworth on the Bengals' emergence as a force in the NFL: "The writers keep asking us, 'Are you thinking about the playoffs?' They expect us to say things like, 'This is a tough league,' and 'It's a long season,' but when they ask me I tell 'em, 'Go ahead and make reservations for Detroit. We'll be there in January.' The fans are loving it. It's been about six years since we started like this, and everybody wants to go to the Super Bowl. I'm worried about finding enough tickets. I've got relatives in this area. I discover a new one every day."
Collinsworth on being a Collinsworth, born the first son of a high school administrator in Dayton, raised in Mims, Fla. (pop. 8,309): "My parents named me C-r-i-s because they didn't want to spell it like everybody else, with an 'h.' Actually, Cris is my middle name. Anthony Cris Collinsworth. They were going to call me Cris Anthony, but it sounded too much like chrysanthemum."
Collinsworth on his father, Abe, now assistant school superintendent in Brevard County, Fla.: "His full name is Abraham Lincoln Collinsworth. He was a great basketball player in high school, and people say when he went on to play at Kentucky in the '50s, the fans used to come out just to watch him dunk the ball in warmups. He still likes to put on a show. He's got a big ol' potbelly and he goes out and puts 'em in two-handed from 40 feet. He does all this fancy stuff, dribbling the ball behind his back and everything. He saw the Globetrotters as a kid and he went right home and started spinning the ball on his finger."
Collinsworth on his mother, Donetta, Abe's college sweetheart: "When I was in the third grade, I outran everybody in the class and won a medal. When I came home, I told Mom what a fast dude I was. She said, 'Don't brag.' I said, 'But it's true.' She said, 'O.K., come with me,' and she took me outside the house and had Dad pace off a 50-yard strip. Fifty yards is about as long as Mims itself, and she was gonna race me. I was laughing. 'C'mon, Mom, get serious.' She beat me three straight. I swear. You don't mess around with Mom."