In 2006, Cris Collinsworth nearly became NBC’s play-by-play announcer

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Legendary TV executive Dick Ebersol (who ultimately gave the green light, for some reason, to bring PFT under the NBC umbrella in 2009) has a new book that details his decades of experience, from the creation of Saturday Night Live to mastering the art of Olympics broadcasting to making Sunday night into Football Night. And there’s an intriguing little nugget regarding the process that resulted in NBC hiring Al Michaels and John Madden in 2006, from ABC’s Monday Night Football.

In From Saturday Night to Sunday Night, Ebersol explains that he had secured Madden, MNF producer Fred Gaudelli, and MNF director Drew Esocoff for Sunday Night Football. Al, however, had signed a new contract with ABC/ESPN.

Ebersol needed someone to handle play-by-play duties, a person to pair with John Madden. Fox and CBS had their top announcers under contract, and Ebersol concluded that “there weren’t any young up-and-comers” to pair with Madden.

That’s when Ebersol improvised. He had Cris Collinsworth, who’d signed up to work in the Football Night in America studio, “begin a crash course in learning how to be a play-by-play announcer.”

Collinsworth initially thought Ebersol had “lost [his] mind,” but Cris decided to give it a try. Collinsworth practiced, working with Merril Hoge to call several games. In January 2006, Collinsworth and Madden worked together via the live feed of a Patriots-Broncos playoff game.

During the second half of that game, Ebersol learned from PR chief Mike McCarley that Al Michaels was back in play, with ABC/ESPN willing to release him from his deal. Collinsworth happily relinquished the play-by-play duties and, after Madden retired, became the analyst who worked with Al Michaels.

Michaels, of course, is now at Amazon. You’ll see and hear him tonight on the Dolphins-Bengals call. Collinsworth remains in his job at NBC, but not in the one he would have had if Ebersol couldn’t have hired Al Michaels in 2006.

It would have been rare for a former player to become a play-by-play announcer, but not unprecedented. Pat Summerall (a former NFL kicker) did it. Also, Frank Gifford (Hall of Fame halfback) handled play-by-play in the glory days of Monday Night Football, working with Don Meredith and Howard Cosell.

6 responses to “In 2006, Cris Collinsworth nearly became NBC’s play-by-play announcer

  1. Collinsworth is better than a lot… but he tends to speak too much. The art is learning what not to say versus trying to fill every moment with the sound of your voice.

  2. Collingsworth is okay – not nearly the pain on the ears that the droning Troy Barkman has become.

  3. What makes Collinsworth annoying is that he tends to proclaim practically everyone the “next greatest whatever”.
    Every assistant coach or coordinator is destined to become the next great head coach. Every great catch is the “catch of the season” and on & on.

  4. His vocabulary is very limited. And he’s a pencil neck. And he annoys many ppl.

    Not a good combination of traits

  5. Collinsworth makes it clear that he knows very little about each of the teams on the field. After fan base has their own version of these moments, but they exist, you just dont realize it until it happens to your team. He knows the names of the players, and he watches a few highlights from a few games, and thinks he is now an expert on that team. Like 2 years ago when he proclaimed Dietrich Wise the best player on the Patriots defense. What? Wise is a good player and he is continuing to get better, but at the time he was a DE who came in mostly on passing downs. And he was also playing with Hightower, McCourty, Chung, Collins, Van Noy, Gilmore etc. There were a lot of really good players on that defense, and Wise was like the 15th best defensive player, on his best day… I would love to hear the examples from fans of other teams, lol.

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