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The Trouble With Cris Collinsworth

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 12: NBC Sunday Night Football color commentator Cris Collinsworth (L) and play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico walk onto the field before a game between the New York Jets and the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on November 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about the limits of schadenfreude, Ulysses, Tyler Bass, and more.

Your letters:


Watching the Lions and I’ve never heard Collinsworth so salty. He’s ripping the Bucs apart and throwing shade. It’s honestly uncomfortable, and I’m cheering for the Lions! Do you think he feels he should have had the ostensibly more marquee SF-GB game? 

I have an up-and-down relationship with Cris Collinsworth. I usually look forward to having him do games because he’s good at his job. He knows the game, he knows the players, and he often points out things during the telecast that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Thanks to his purchase of Pro Football Focus, he’s partially responsible for research/analytics becoming a foundational element of how football teams are run, and how they’re covered by the media. And he seems like a genuinely nice person. I’ve never heard a cross word spoken about him behind the scenes.

But Collinsworth has various … let’s say tics, that grate on me to no end if I’m not in the mood for his bullshit. He always falls in love with one player on each team (it’s usually Sean Lee for some reason) and then praises them endlessly throughout the game. He always laughs smarmily anytime one of his favorite QBs does something cool. He’s not mean enough to the refs. He’s getting lapped by a next generation of color guys, Greg Olsen most prominent among them, who are even better at the job than he is. And he fucking LOVES everyone who’s ever played QB for the Packers.

That last one is my own personal bias talking, because I cheer for the Packers’ rival. We all think the color guy harbors a secret vendetta against our favorite team. But when my team is blowing a big game on national TV, Cris Collinsworth is the LAST motherfucker I want on the mic, because he’s always primed to dole out punch and cookies to the winning team. He’s a goddamn frontrunner, is what he is. Also, when the SNF production team threw up a graphic that said my team had won more NFC North/Central titles than any other team, the Packers included, he was like I was shocked to see that! Knowing football is your job, Cris. Maybe you could stop giving Jordan Love a foot massage and read up on some basic history, you bird-ass looking pile of shit.

(I thought he was nice to Baker on Sunday.)


Watched Bills-Chiefs and saw Tyler Bass miss that field goal. What would you do if you missed a chip shot that would win your team the Super Bowl?

I’d do what Scott Norwood did and just never go out into the world again. Maybe enough time would pass where the sting would fade and I could own my fuck-up, goofing on myself for blowing the big game before anyone else got a chance to. But that would take a lot of effort, a lot of constant reminders from strangers that I’m the worst person who ever lived, and a lot of death threats. I’m not sure it’s worth pushing through all of that when I could just take my career earnings and go live on a quiet lake instead.

No one wants to be defined by their mistakes. That’s especially true now that we live in a future where everyone is canceled for 15 minutes. But sports is uniquely cruel in that your worst mistakes are broadcast to the world, replayed a million times over, and woven deep into the psyche of people you don’t even know. Your chokejob is forever. The majority of people in this world aren’t wired to handle all of that, and the ones who are (politicians) are fucked in the head in a different way. So if I gave away a Super Bowl victory, I’d have to spend years processing it: going to therapy, taking depression meds, drinking again and then quitting again, blah blah blah. Then I’d probably find solace in an entirely different activity, like woodworking or some shit. Everyone has to learn how to deal in this world, but it’s not as easy when that world hates you.

So I hope Tyler Bass recovers from Sunday night and goes onto have a good career. After all, he was a money kicker right before that game. Then again, so was Norwood. I hope he overcomes what Norwood couldn’t. Failing that, I hope he treats himself to a fat ribeye every night for the rest of his life.

This postseason has served as an annual reminder that special teams are never to be taken for granted. The best coaches—Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, Andy Reid—are all extremely finicky about special teams play, because they know that those units serve as the sheet of paper that a football game is written on. Everything an offense and defense does is framed within the field position that special teams provide them. And every kicking unit serves as necessary punctuation to any drive that ends short of the end zone, and to most of the drives that do. If your special teams are garbage, every other unit will suffer as a result. Same as if you have a lousy offense or a lousy defense. So be sure to tip your local special teams generously. They earned it.


Is Baker Mayfield the reigning Ryan Fitzpatrick?

No, because he’s a former No. 1 overall pick, and because he crushed the Eagles, and because the Bucs are about to give him real-deal starter money this offseason. But I do like the idea of naming a ceremonial Ryan Fitzpatrick every season, in honor of the backup QB who throws for yardage, is beloved by teammates, and gives local fans a thrill on the way to a middling record. They could even present the award at that stupid NFL Honors show. This year’s recipient would be … (opens envelope) … Gardner Minshew.


As a former ad guy, can you help me understand what is so weird and discordant about every T-Mobile ad? Whether it's Zoe Saldana in a coat or a generic English guy or an announcer-only ad about Internet service, I feel like I'm being yelled at in a particular way no other brand comes close to.

It’s that those ads look cheap. Zoe Saldana is a legit movie star, and Zach Braff and Donald Faison used to be culturally relevant. But none of that matters when you’re repping a B-list brand that no one really likes. T-Mobile already feels like a generic product—the Zune to Verizon and AT&T’s iPod—so they’re already fighting an uphill battle to get Americans to take them seriously. They’re not helping matters when they stick poor Zoe in an imitation REI store with a coat that gets more attention than the actual product they’re selling, or when they have Braff and Faison sing awful showtunes at you over and over again. All of that only reinforces the idea that they’re the Nikki Haley of cell phone plans.

Please note that I’m not fond of Verizon's or AT&T’s ads, either. I have now watched Lily berate that poor flight attendant 78 million times. And Verizon has a lengthy track record of making me resent gifted comic actors I once liked. But both of them feel like real companies selling workable products, so their ads come off more as bullying than pure, unrequited thirst. When you’re a lower-tier brand, you have to work that much harder to get people to like you. In that regard, T-Mobile is an enormous failure. I may as well use a Little Tikes walkie-talkie instead.


Who is Madame Web? Why is Madame Web? Do you remember an ad campaign for a middling/bad product that you wish didn't exist at all, yet it kept right on going? 

FUN FACT: Madame Web will reportedly be the longest modern, live-action Spider-Man movie that Sony has ever made. Granted, it clocks it at just over two hours, which means the Spider-Man franchise exercises uncommon judiciousness in the editing suite. But when the entire movie itself feels perfunctory, that’s still a lot to ask of moviegoers.

I would explain the plot of Madame Web to you, but neither its trailer nor Wikipedia were much help in that regard. Dakota Johnson plays some kind of Spider-Womanesque lady who teams up (there must always be a team) with other women who have similar powers, and then they probably go hunt for an all-powerful orb or something. It’ll have a lousy script and even worse effects. In other words, it’ll be every shitty comic book movie you’ve already seen.

2023 was the year when these movies finally ran out of gas, so every Marvel/Sony/Star Wars movie you see in the aftermath will be a film that was greenlit before audience fatigue set in, or a half-assed attempt by studios to get the ATM working again. These execs have spent so many years milking the IP teat that they have no ability to think of actual ideas, which is now what is required of them.

The good news (kinda) is that the people in charge of Hollywood have always been this cynical and unimaginative. I know everyone points to the '70s as a magical time when auteurs were granted unlimited resources and creative license to make better films, but the majority of movies from that decade were AWFUL. For every Jaws there were 50 Jaws 2s. Every family drama made you wanna cut your wrists. Every action movie had a grand total of five minutes of action. Every TV movie was a TV movie. Artists fighting through the bullshit to produce indelible work has always been the exception and not the rule. As always, it’ll fall to us to sift out the wheat from the chaff. But the good stuff will still get made, and you and I are equipped with better bullshit detectors than we once had. Madame Web has mine flashing like a goddamn strobe light.


You live in Maryland. What do you think about the Baltimore Sun being bought by Sinclair's David D. Smith? Follow-up: do you think there's a breaking point for Americans being this invested in reactionary infotainment?

For those of you who are unaware, Baltimore’s major newspaper just got devoured by the private equity monster, which means that it’s about to go from being an invaluable source of local journalism to a combination of right-wing drivel and regurgitated chumbox material. I can’t say I’m enthused. Most people aren’t. You, Defector subscriber, recognize good copy when you see it, and are willing to pay for it. I wager that many other Americans are also willing to find better journalism and pay for it. Again, it’s not unlike movies right now, where consumers are left to doing the bulk of the legwork because the people in charge of things are either indifferent to what they’re selling, or they actively despise it.

There’s no proverbial “breaking point” for this. Fox News isn’t gonna suddenly turn woke a week from now because they want to do the right thing. It’s always gonna be a mess, and you and I will always be left to sort through it as best we can. It’s not the end of journalism, and it’s not the end of the world. It’s just more bullshit. We’ll muddle through as best we can.

To that end, I’d just like to say to anyone out there thinking of getting into journalism: Do it. Don’t let what’s happening out there stop you. The worst thing any journalist can do in the wake of this news is actively discourage everyone else from entering this profession. Because guess what happens if no one wants to be a journalist anymore?



As I sit here basking in the glow of another humiliating playoff exit for the Dallas Cowboys, I'm wondering what your favorite instances of sports/playoff schadenfreude were. We'll leave the Packers out of the discussion, because that's a given.

The ones I remember the best all come with a catch. The first one is the Warriors blowing a 3-1 Finals lead to the Cavs, but they won the two subsequent Finals after that. The other one is the 18-0 Pats losing to Eli Manning, but those Pats still managed to win six Super Bowls and spawned the most pervasive (and insufferable) bandwagon of this century in the process. Those were fun losses, but they were fleeting. The best teams usually win, which means that my team never does.

This is ironic because I deal in schadenfreude as a profession. I point and laugh when cocky teams fuck up. But, after doing this for nearly two decades, I know it’s an empty thrill. Schadenfreude is what I latch onto out of self-loathing, and that grows more apparent with every passing year. Pyrrhic victories are all I have. That’s why I’ve grown so hostile to the ironic LOL, especially when it’s become the default response to any team losing under any circumstances. That’s when you go from having a wicked sense of humor to being a generic troll. If you’re gonna troll, at least have the goddamn courtesy to do it imaginatively. Going “lol bills” is a waste of everyone’s time.

But I’m fighting a losing battle. Under present circumstances, schadenfreude is really only gratifying when it’s rare, and when it’s surprising. So when everyone out there revels in every loss, I can’t even tell what losses merit sarcastic canonization anymore. It’s annoying.

Looking back on 18-1 still makes me smile, though. Can’t deny it.


You've mentioned being a big James Joyce fanboy and that you’ve read Ulysses more than once. What's your favorite part? Is it when Bloom takes a relaxing poop to start his day, when his wife farts directly into his face at the very end, when he wanks off into his pants because a woman at the beach is showing him thigh, or something else entirely? Timeless stuff. I haven't read any of your books. Were you brave enough to have your main characters pissing and shitting from start to finish? 

Oh it’s the wanking part. When I heard someone else joke about masturbation for the first time (Richard Pryor), it changed my world. I wasn’t alone in … uh, being alone. I had a dirty mind, but so did every other young guy. I was doing the right thing. Also, Pryor’s bit was fucking gold. So to this day, I remain impossibly fond of a well-told masturbation joke or story. Ulysses contains one of the very best, and I was the right age (20) to appreciate it in full. Ulysses is an epic of mundanity. It’s 900 pages about an utterly ordinary day in the life of an utterly ordinary man. In that way, you can read it as one big joke. Joyce wouldn’t have dissuaded you from that idea, and he had an even filthier mind than I did.

But of course, life itself is made almost exclusively of those profoundly ordinary moments. You get up. You kiss your wife. You eat. You go to work. You get a drink after work. Maybe you find yourself in an argument that goes nowhere, but gets you heated all the same. You treat yourself to a jerk when you can find space. You go home. Your get into bed. Your wife gets up to menstruate into a chamber pot and then remembers the time when the love between you felt so new and alive. She remembers the start of your days together. And then your day is over. Another ordinary day is likely to follow, and again and again until you have no more days left.

Again, you can read that a joke: Joyce making you chew through page after page where nothing of consequence happens to Bloom. Or you can understand that he deliberately made Ulysses a book about nothing because nothing and everything are one and the same. The bulk of the universe is made up of nothing. You, a human residing as a relative subatomic particle within it, know nothing. Before you were born, you were nothing. After you die, you will go back to being nothing. You will have zero tangible impact on the greater universe. And yet, contained within all of that nothing is everything you will ever see, hear, feel, remember, want, and learn. It’s a remarkable paradox that can never be reconciled. Life is meaningless. It also means everything. Also, sometimes you bust a nut. I’ve carried all of that with me ever since I read Ulysses. It’s not the most entertaining book I’ve ever read, and I doubt I ever read it again, but it’s part of everything I am as an artist, and it always will be.

That said, I’ll never read Finnegans Wake. I’m too old now. One of you will have to gimme the tl;dr. I’m sure summing that novel up in a couple of sentences takes little effort.


You've had multiple back surgeries. I'm 36, and a recent MRI has shown four herniated discs, two annular tears, one left stenosis, and a partridge and pear tree. I'm in constant pain and have lessened mobility. It's deteriorated to the point where my will to be active is gone, including playing hockey. I could've never imagined not wanting to play at every opportunity. I've tried physical therapy, massage, chiropractic, pilates, and have gotten way more toradol shots than should've been allowed.

I have an appointment with a neurosurgeon in March. Despite all this, everyone is telling me to NOT get surgery. I know some older hockey players who swear surgery gave them an intense amount of short term pain while healing, then a slight amount of comfort. That it's pointless because I'll never be as strong as before the procedure. Are these just fuddy-duddys who are grumpy their surgeries seem to be ineffective, or is there truth to this and BIG SURGERY is lying to us? 

This strictly goes case by case and doctor by doctor. I can only tell you my personal experience with back surgery. I have had three herniated discs, but NOT simultaneously, as you currently have. The first one, at age 18, was causing nerve damage down my left leg, which could have resulted in my foot withering had I not gotten surgery. So I got a discectomy—where a piece of blown-out disc was removed—and played two years of college football thereafter, without incident. The second blowout came in 2006, and left me in so much pain that I couldn’t stand up, sit, walk, or sleep. So I got another discectomy, from a doctor I no longer care for. That got rid of the pain well enough. Then I blew out the third disc in 2010, which again left me unable to walk on my heels: a sure sign of dropfoot. That surgery, done here, was the most successful of the three. I’ve had no surgeries since, which is good because I’m out of strikes. The next time I blow a disc, fusion surgery awaits.

I do not want fusion surgery, and neither do you. Fusion surgery is when the doctor fastens two (or more) of your vertebrae together to keep them in place. It’s a highly invasive surgery, one that can only be performed by entering through the front of your body and not the back. It’s also not guaranteed that fusion will leave you in mint condition afterward. Some people remain in pain for life after, others have their mobility permanently compromised. That’s more risk than I care to take.

But the three surgeries I’ve already had? I regret none of them, and never have. I trusted the first and third surgeons explicitly, and their work has withstood the ravages of age thus far. I’m pain-free, I know how to take care of my back when flare-ups happen, and I can live life freely. So whenever someone comes to me with back issues, I ask them if they can't walk on their heels, then I ask them if they have a good surgeon. If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then I say get to the fucking OR. So keep that March appointment, Kyle. Make sure your neurosurgeon is legit, listen to him intently, ask every question you can possibly think of, try not to think of how much it’ll cost you, and then do what the doctor recommends. If you feel like you just walked into an orthopedics factory, as I did with the second doc, get out of there and find someone proper, even if they’re out of network. It’s worth it, even if you can’t afford it.


Recently on the Distraction, one of the Funbag questions made a reference to “Pissburgh,” presumably from a fan of another AFC North team. References like that are common on internet message boards and twitter, especially for college football (like scUM, O$U, etc.). Seeing them makes me instantly dismiss the comment/question and then mentally block the writer. Am I a snob (probably), or am I right to want to avoid this sort of discourse?

Of course you’re right to avoid those people. We at Defector keep a collective mental list of the best (worst) examples we’ve seen of these nicknames out in the wild. For many years, our reigning champ has been “Cryami Weaks,” which was a nickname some random pud coined for the Miami Heat. Spend some time with Cryami Weaks and you’ll understand that it takes a very special mind to go from the Heat’s original name to that particular epithet. There’s no way AI could come up with this turn of phrase, much less you or me. We on staff keep looking for a worthy competitor to Cryami Weaks, but to this date have come up empty. It may never be topped.

You see this kind of name-calling in politics too, of course. “Obummer," “Republican’ts,” “Dumbocrats.” Donald Trump took it to the next level with his Crooked Hillarys and Meatball Rons, but he still represents the sort of person with whom you NEVER want to engage, on any level. I even have to check myself when I call Mike McCarthy “Beav,” lest I sound too much like an aspiring Bill Conlin. Whenever you try to nickname an athlete/coach/politician you don’t like, the result of that little brainstorm will almost always be something that only you find witty. Wiser minds avoid the practice entirely, which is why you’re right to instinctively avoid people who think that LET’S GO BRANDON is an ingenious play on words.

Email of the week!


What's the best method for getting rid of your kids' old things? My kids are swimming in nearly 10 years of old toys, and we need to make space before we become hoarders. My wife and I have tried to get our kids to willingly get rid of old toys they've grown out of, but to no avail. We've tried reasoning with them (“you don't play with it anymore!”), we've tried making it a game and have them choose keep or toss, but they never want to get rid of anything. Do we really just need to go in while they're at school and toss it ourselves?

Yup. You have to be ruthless. It’ll only hurt for a few minutes.

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