Without the roar of a raucous crowd, the sort that’s engulfed Cris Collinsworth nearly every Sunday of his professional career, he admits it can be tough to call a game.
This season, with few if any fans in attendance, it’s sometimes taken him until the middle of the first quarter of a “Sunday Night Football” matchup to really hit his stride.
As distracting as the new normal is for him, though, Collinsworth can’t imagine what it’s like for the men on the field.
“God bless the players,” he says. “Football is a hard game. It’s a violent game. When you get to this point in the season, everybody has something. There’s something that hurts on every player in the league. You need the energy of that crowd, and you need this adrenaline rush to kind of talk your body into throwing it out there one more time.”
Collinsworth, who’s in his 12th season alongside Al Michaels in the NBC booth, will make his Las Vegas debut Sunday as the Raiders host the Chiefs. It’s his second chance at a first impression after the Oct. 25 game at Allegiant Stadium was moved out of prime time because of fears that positive COVID-19 tests could force a postponement and leave the league without a featured Sunday night game.
“It’s a seven-day-a-week job. The preparation goes, really, from the plane ride home from the other game,” Collinsworth says of that reshuffling. “So, yeah, I had a good half-a-week preparation into it.”
John Madden once told him that, whenever he called games featuring the same team, even on consecutive weeks, he’d throw out all his notes and start from scratch. Virtually all his Raiders research from that week, Collinsworth says, is now worthless.
“It’s amazing. You think that all the stuff you did for that game would just carry over. But a team changes so much in a period of three weeks. It just does. … Whatever you thought going into the other game really is not pertinent after they play another one. Because it’s a new group of people, or somebody got hurt, or it’s a new scheme. You know, you just kind of have to start over.”
While the pandemic has upended the gameday experience, Collinsworth says his weekly schedule largely has remained unaffected.
“For the most part, until we get to the host city, I’m, like, in a cave. I just sit in the basement, and I watch film, and I read everything, and I memorize names. … It’s ‘Groundhog Day.’ You tell me what time of day it is on which day of the week, and I can pretty much tell you what I’m doing.”
One of the few welcome breaks from that routine, he says, is a visit to a new city, like Las Vegas, or a new stadium, like Allegiant or SoFi in Los Angeles.
The Raiders team he’ll finally get to see in person Sunday is, at 6-3, in a position few expected.
“This is a team that looks like they’ve got a real shot at the playoffs,” Collinsworth notes. “I think they’re just barely in the middle of the process of building this team. I think this defense is young on the back end. They’re gonna get better. They’re gonna draft more players. Offensively, they’ve got the kind of weapons that you need to play in a shootout with Kansas City, which, how many teams have that?”
It isn’t just the new city and stadium that have Collinsworth excited about Sunday. He’s looking forward to the rematch of the game that handed the Chiefs their only loss of the season.
“The wide receivers are all fantastic talents. The running backs in this game are stars. Sometimes you go to the stadium, you’re still memorizing the names of the backup receivers and the backup running backs,” he admits, “but they’re really almost household names with these two teams.”
It’s that sort of matchup that makes his job easier, even if it will take place in a largely quiet Allegiant Stadium.
“You get that kind of star power right off the bat for a broadcast, then we can weave in the rest of it,” Collinsworth says. “We’ll tell you about the defense and the offensive line and teach you a few names you don’t know. But when the people at home know the star players, and they’re playing the skill positions, that makes it really fun.”