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Collinsworth goes from NFL's small stage to big

Associated Press Modified: November 20, 2012 at 3:31 pm •  Published: November 20, 2012

Madden surprised NBC executives by retiring in April 2009, and the network announced the same day that Collinsworth would take over.

"I knew everything was going to be very, very smooth," Madden says of the transition. "It has, and I'm really happy it has."

The current lead NFL analysts on the other networks are two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks — Fox's Aikman and CBS's Phil Simms — and a Super Bowl-winning coach in ESPN's Jon Gruden. Collinsworth figures, in his own case, his long-term career benefited from his relative lack of fame as a player.

A bigger name would start with bigger games. He got to learn from his mistakes early on in front of tiny audiences, improving and improving to slowly work up to a bigger stage.

Madden believes Collinsworth had plenty going for him at the start. That legal background allows him to process the game and express those thoughts differently than any old former NFL player, Madden says.

"He's just not an X's and O's technical disseminator of information," says "Sunday Night Football" producer Fred Gaudelli. "Cris is a broadcaster. He really understands what is too much or 'how can I say this so that everyone understands this?'"

Collinsworth likes to lampoon the fact it took him five years to get through law school: "The joke is I got tenure and a diploma at the same time."

But it was law school — not studying film as a player — that taught him how to prepare himself each week to talk football to an average audience of more than 21 million viewers. He would start with 50 pages of notes, then distill that to 25, then to 15 then to five — and memorize those five pages.

Collinsworth insists he never saw all this coming early on, and yet his career also seems to have come full circle. When he started calling NFL games, his producer was Michaels' brother.

David Michaels was aghast when he saw Collinsworth's method of tracking players: He wrote all their names on the back of a folder. Michaels called up Terry Bradshaw, who sent over an elaborate board with places for names and numbers. That got Collinsworth through his first five years or so of broadcasting.

"I used to watch those guys on 'Monday Night Football' and go, 'Oh, my gosh. Can you imagine doing these games with the whole world watching?'" he says. "I was glad I was doing the game back in Cleveland."

Now the whole country is watching.