Brown sees problem, not cure

Thursday, November 26, 1998

Mike Brown feels your pain. He can not help but feel your pain. The aches and groans are all around him now, assaulting his eyes and his ears and, increasingly, his turnstile count.

The President, General Manager and Volunteer Scapegoat of the Cincinnati Bengals can not escape the pervasive anguish over the fortunes of his football team. Yet he continues to dissent about the probable cure.

Those who are convinced Brown must purge himself in order to fix his franchise are doomed to be disappointed. They might even be wrong. Pro football is a game of cycles - some of them long, few of them definitive. If Mike Brown is willing to take the heat long enough, he is sure to be seen as a genius some day.

The National Football League is the most successful form of communism ever created. Everyone gets rich by sharing the same proceeds, and almost everyone eventually gets vindicated because teams draft players in inverse order of results.

Patience pays

You don't have to be brilliant to succeed in this business. You just have to be patient.

Not long ago, the prevailing wisdom on the West Coast was that Al Davis failed to grasp the nuances of the modern game; that the mastermind of the Oakland-Los Angeles-Oakland Raiders had gradually grown out of his depth.

Today, the Raiders are back in the playoff picture, and Davis has returned to the graceless gloating that has been his hallmark. He regards the notion the game could have passed him by as entirely preposterous.

"I don't remember anybody ever asking Einstein if he was having a bleeping problem understanding modern math," Davis told ESPN Magazine.

Mike Brown is not disposed to such conceited comparisons, but he has his own theories of relativity. Despite eight straight seasons without a winning record, he remains convinced the difference between success and failure in the NFL is determined by the starting quarterback.

He insists it is not his system nor his football smarts that have betrayed him in the '90s, so much as the luck of the draw. Perhaps he's deluding himself here - the Bengals have drafted poorly and repeatedly failed to snare the top free agents - yet consider the consequences had Brown owned the No. 1 pick of 1993 (Drew Bledsoe) instead of 1994 (Dan Wilkinson).

"I think I can tell players," Brown said Wednesday afternoon at Spinney Field. "I don't think we've made errors in judgement. Sometimes, there's an element of luck. If the Denver Broncos had known Terrell Davis was going to be such a great back, they wouldn't have waited until the sixth round to take him."

Brown is willing to take the blame for the Bengals' notorious '90s - and should, since he's the man who hired Dave Shula and drafted David Klingler - but he will not be taking the fall. Among the privileges of ownership is that you aren't obligated to mollify the mob with your own scalp.

"You just have to bear up under it," Brown said. "It isn't an enjoyable experience. I wouldn't wish it as a Christmas gift for anyone. But it's part of this business. I've been there before. I would honestly tell you I'm glad the fans are pissed off. It shows that they care. I want them to care."

He wanted Randy Moss

There is a certain Light Brigade mentality to Mike Brown, a stubbornness sometimes out of sync with pragmatism. Ownership allows him to take the long view toward job security, but it can not shield him from revenue shortfalls.

As attendance has dwindled, Brown has become more open to beefing up his skeleton crew of scouts. But this is the only bone he's offering at the moment. He reserves the right to have final say, a right he might want to wield more often.

The Bengals have been widely mocked for passing twice last spring on Randy Moss, the wondrous receiver later drafted by Minnesota. Fact is, Brown lobbied at length for Moss on draft day, but yielded to the wishes of his coaches.

"The mistake I made was deferring," Brown said Wednesday. "Sometimes I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't."

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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