13 years ago, Cris Collinsworth was tasked with replacing arguably the most popular analyst in sports history: John Madden.
Collinsworth is a solid analyst, maybe even a little underrated as networks shell out hundreds of millions of dollars to recruit former quarterbacks to the booth. But filling the void of a nearly universally popular analyst wasn’t going to be easy, thanks to the late Madden’s enthusiastic and sensible broadcast style. What may have been easy, however, was convincing Madden to return to the booth for at least one more season. And all that may have needed to happen was for Collinsworth cancel his 50th birthday celebration.
Collinsworth was the latest guest on The Press Box podcast with host Bryan Curtis, and during their conversation, the NBC analyst revealed an interesting conversation he had with Madden years after the football Hall-of-Famer retired from broadcasting.
2009 was NBC’s year to cover the Super Bowl. At the time, Madden was still the network’s lead analyst and Collinsworth worked in-studio for their pre- and post-game shows. According to Collinsworth, while they were in Tampa for the Super Bowl, they celebrated his 50th birthday with a cake, which apparently enlightened Madden.
In 2009, John Madden retired from Sunday Night Football after realizing that Cris Collinsworth, his heir apparent, had turned 50.
— Bryan Curtis (@bryancurtis) August 18, 2022
“At the end of that party [Madden] came up to me and goes ‘I can’t believe you’re 50 years old! You’re really 50? Wow.’ So we kind of had a little discussion about it, but I could see the wheels with him were spinning a little,” Collinsworth recalled. “He told me much later that one of the reasons he knew it was time, it wasn’t the only reason by any means, but one of the reasons he said was, ‘I’ve been unfair, that should be your job now. I’ve been hogging this seat for too long.’
“I said, ‘John, I wish you’d have said some of that out loud!’ Because I had my one son playing at Notre Dame, I had another one playing high school football,” Collinsworth explained. “So when I was doing the pregame show, I didn’t have to go in until Saturday night so I could watch everything and then go to the game.”
As Collinsworth explained, when he was tasked with filling Madden’s chair on Sunday Night Football, he had to start going to work on Thursday night, which meant a lot more travel and money spent if he wanted to keep watching his kids play.
“I really think he sort of thought he was doing me a favor. Where he really could have done me a favor by staying there a couple more years,” Collinsworth said with a chuckle.
Is it really possible that if Collinsworth didn’t have a birthday party during Super Bowl week that we would have been granted at least one more season, if not more, of John Madden calling Sunday Night Football? I have a hard time believing this, but I would have been willing to forfeit a birthday cake for another year of Madden in the booth.