Susannah Collins talks Blackhawks, Mr. T, Belushi and more (exclusive)

(UPDATE 5-7-13 11:50 A.M.: Susannah releases public statement on her own home page)

UPDATE 5-3-13: Susannah is fired by Comcast SportsNet. This link explains why I believe the Blackhawks themselves had more to do with her dismissal than CSN!!!

Susannah Collins was hired by Comcast SportsNet Chicago this past September. You know her best from Chicago Blackhawks broadcasts; but Collins also covers Bulls, White Sox and Cubs for the network. CSN has broadcast partnerships with all four Chicago teams.  Susannah Collins became an internet superstar last week thanks to ’80s icon Mr. T (watch here to see him score a goal) It was one of the best moments in shoot-the-puck history; right up there with this one.

Susannah Collins is both an Illini and a local. She grew up in the western suburb of Downers Grove, IL and graduated from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana in 2001. For a full biography go here.

There’s so much going on in April with Chicago sports, and at CSN. So what better time than now to talk Blackhawks, Bulls, Derrick Rose, hockey and more with a famous CSN anchor/reporter? (Yes, that’s a rhetorical question)

And yeah, we discuss Jim Belushi and Mr. T too.

You can follow Susannah Collins on Twitter and on Facebook (She may or may not be on Google+ as well, but I didn’t look because no one cares about Google+)

PAUL M. BANKS: Tell us a little bit about your background, why/how you chose this business, how you got to CSN Chicago

SUSANNAH COLLINS: I had a very non-traditional path to get where I am. I studied broadcast journalism at U of I but I was also really into musical theater at the time. So after I graduated I moved to London to do a post-graduate musical theater course, was there for about a year and a half, did some traveling and then made the big move to NYC to pursue “the dream.”

I quickly realized it wasn’t happening for me so I got a job in PR to make ends meet.

And I was miserable.

It was about this time that I started to regret not having gone down the broadcast path, particularly in sports. I’ve been an athlete my whole life, played basketball, volleyball, softball, my dad was a collegiate athlete, my entire family is Chicago sports crazy….you get the idea. Well, a friend of a friend was starting a new web series called Sports Nutz (this fact is disputed by Sports Nutz creator Jimmy Chairman “In April 2009, we auditioned Susannah Collins who applied through Backstage or Craigslist”) which basically entailed me and another girl giving snarky sports commentary. I was making no money at all, but was happier than I had been in ages, so I kept with it.

In our second season, we did an episode called “Douchebag Nation” (no joke) about belligerent college basketball fans. Deadspin picked up the video, it went viral, and the Executive Producer of Inside the NFL just happened to see it. He called me in for an interview with Showtime Sports/CBS Sports and I landed the gig. I covered MMA and Boxing and was also a correspondent for Inside the NFL and Inside NASCAR. This led to other gigs with the NFL Network, NBC, CBS – it was crazy. I knew if I was serious about a career in the industry, though, I would need to land a full-time gig somewhere. I had been in NYC for 5 years and the thought of returning back to Chicago to cover my hometown teams was always in the back of my mind. A friend of mine had a contact at CSN so she forwarded my reel to the news director and the rest is history.


PAUL M. BANKS: So is this the formula for shoot-the-puck: one kid, one man in Blackhawks sweater, one attractive woman in high heels. Of course, when there’s a celebrity/local media figure thrown in there, it kind of throws the formula off a bit. And there’s been more celebs lately, it’s like the Cubs and the 7th inning stretch.

SUSANNAH COLLINS: Yep, that pretty much sums it up perfectly! It’s always a bit easier when there’s a celeb because that becomes the main story and I can focus the interview on them. Otherwise, it can get pretty chaotic. And with the “everyday fan” it’s a crap shoot – you never know what could come out of their mouths! I always try to talk to them for a bit before we go out there so I can get a better idea of who might be comfortable talking on camera. But like I said, when there’s a celeb, they’re usually pretty accommodating. Usually….. (cue the next question)


PAUL M. BANKS So you had Jim Belushi being creepy one night, Mr. T becoming an internet sensation for his heroics the very next night. That story got picked up everywhere. How was your week of having a newly added level of fame? What was Mr. T like in person?

SUSANNAH COLLINS: It was nuts!! Talk about two polar opposite experiences! The Jim Belushi thing was just so odd. I had spoken to him in the tunnel before we went out there and told him I was going to grab him for an interview and he seemed absolutely fine. Then when we got out on the ice….whole different story! I legitimately thought that maybe he was doing some weird improv schtick that I was not picking up on.

Then it got a little creepy.

I handled it as best as I could.

Mr. T though – WOW. Such a genuinely great guy. And after the previous contestant, I couldn’t have asked for anyone better.

I just tried to tee him up and he absolutely killed it. Seriously, one of my favorite moments in my career. I couldn’t believe how many outlets picked it up! So many of my friends were texting me saying “I saw you on Deadspin! I saw you on Sports Center!” Who knew Mr. T still had that kind of appeal?


PAUL M. BANKS:  Totally, I was surprised he still moves the needle like that today. And you handled Belushi perfectly. Do you think Blackhawks fans may have been spoiled by the very hot start to the season? It’s been kind of like eating dessert first. Of course, what really matters is what happens in the postseason anyway. Why do so many lower seeded teams beat higher seeded teams in the NHL playoffs versus in other sports?

SUSANNAH COLLINS: I don’t think anyone anticipated the Hawks starting off the season as well as they did. But really, it was the best thing that could have happened for hockey because suddenly people who didn’t care or had been turned off by the lockout were turning in to witness history. I wouldn’t say fans were spoiled by the hot start, but it certainly set up some lofty expectations.

In a way, I think it’s good this team has now gone through a bit of adversity. It will only help them in the playoffs. And as you say, it’s what happens in the post season that really matters. As far as lower seeded teams beating higher seeds, I think it’s the nature of the game. If you work that hard all season to secure a number 1 or 2 seed, sometimes there’s an emotional let down afterward. And the lower seeds are hungry to prove they belong in the playoffs. Let’s just hope this Blackhawks team doesn’t fall victim to that pattern!!


PAUL M. BANKS: Amen to that sister. It seems like a lot of Chicago has Derrick Rose fatigue. Or Derrick Rose coverage fatigue. In my opinion, it reminds me of Brett Favre or Roger Clemens in the twilight of their careers with the “will he or won’t he return” storyline; which can be mentally draining. Of course, feel free to tell me why I am wrong.

SUSANNAH COLLINS: The difference here is that D-Rose is still considered the future of Bulls basketball, while guys like Favre and Clemens were on their way down. I agree that the media saturation of the story has been crazy. And I just wish they would announce one way or the other whether or not he’s coming back this season. At this point, it has to be a distraction for the team. If he’s going to sit out the rest of the season then fine – just tell us.

The thing that worries me is the mental hurdle he’ll have to overcome next season if he doesn’t return (this year). I mean, the guy was medically cleared weeks ago. Physically, he’s good to go. I think it would benefit him greatly if he got a few games under his belt as soon as possible just so he knows he can play on that knee and get over that hurdle. Alas….only D-Rose, and God, know if and when that will happen.


PAUL M. BANKS: Could not agree more! Either way, just tell us already! Finally, our shared Alma Mater, the University of Illinois. A.D. Mike Thomas is aggressively marketing to Chicago, having a football game in Soldier Field. Very tough way to get eliminated for Illini basketball. But I think John Groce has the program moving in the right direction, what do you expect out of them next year? Helps to have two Simeon kids coming in.

SUSANNAH COLLINS: That was a tough loss to Miami but I was so proud of the way the Illini played that game. I like the direction John Groce is taking this team and I do believe they’ll be even stronger next season. The Simeon recruits are huge for the program. In fact, I think it’s imperative that they up their recruiting efforts in the Chicago area since it’s such a breeding ground for talent. Groce seems like a guy these kids would want to play for.

Exclusive with Sports Nutz co-host Sam Raddock

Exclusive with Sports Nutz co-host Susannah Collins

Exclusive with Sports Nutz creator Jimmy Chairman

Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports, an author and regular contributor to MSN, Fox Sports , Chicago Now, Walter and Yardbarker. Banks has appeared on Comcast SportsNet and the History Channel, as well as Clear Channel, ESPN and CBS radio all over the world. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@PaulMBanks)

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